Development Planning for an Overhead Persistent Infrared Program

Development Planning for an Overhead Persistent Infrared Program

First published May 2013, Crosslink® magazine

Aerospace’s decision support framework was recently applied to an overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) enterprise development planning study. The study was prompted by downward funding trends and enhanced operational capability needs. Funding for OPIR missions may be restricted to current program resources in the near future. Meanwhile, national security space strategy realizes that space systems architected during the Cold War need to be adapted to remain relevant and effective in today’s ever-changing world. The evolving operational needs of the military also require architectural changes to the OPIR program because of a number of world events that need constant monitoring, and because of the increasing number of users requiring access to data.

Acquisition trends affecting OPIR programs have moved toward evolutionary acquisitions of simpler systems. For example, system solutions using smaller, “good enough,” limited-function satellites are attracting more interest from decision makers. A reduced emphasis on achieving individual satellite reliability may be balanced with the potential of a resilient architecture that can exploit functional redundancy and operational fallbacks across the larger enterprise. As an added benefit, architectures based on disaggregated space assets could more readily sustain multiple industrial sources, reinvigorate the industrial base, and provide more options through competition.

Such political, economic, military, social, infrastructure, and information analysis considerations for OPIR have helped to establish new architectural guidelines for future program development. Goals include reduced cost through competition, more sustainable production orders, and prompt evolution of next-generation satellites. There is also the potential for an increase in satellite production rates because of the avoidance of multiple missions with sensors being integrated on a single spacecraft, and by limiting investments in life extension and redundancy. This may also simplify development efforts by using mature sensor designs and netcentric ground assets.

A set of feasible development approaches for OPIR was also identified in this study. These include performing missions with a single sensor per satellite, adding hosted payloads with staring sensors to improve resiliency, and complementing the geosynchronous Earth orbit constellation with low Earth orbit and narrow-field-of-view sensors to perform additional missions.

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