Several next-generation satellite systems built by the U.S. Air Force could rely on smaller, simpler and cheaper designs, says Gen. William Shelton, Air Force Space Command chief.

Shelton says he continues to push for “disaggregation” of U.S. military satellites, which calls for separating payloads once hosted on large satellites and placing them on more numerous, smaller systems with an eye toward distributing capability and controlling costs.

The general, speaking at the 28th National Space Symposium here, said future space situational awareness and weather satellites are among those being considered for disaggregation. “It doesn’t take huge optics, nor does it take sophisticated onboard processing to provide [needed] data” for the follow-on to the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite designed specifically to surveil objects in geosynchronous orbits.

He notes that the successor to the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) spacecraft could be satisfied with a “much smaller satellite.” Likewise, he suggests that the nuclear detection payload flying on the GPS satellites could be disaggregated to another system, simplifying the precision navigation and timing satellite design of the future.

As officials explore next-generation military satellite communications architecture, they also are examining how to separate the extremely high-frequency payloads used for strategic communications, such as presidential command and control of nuclear forces, from those used for tactical users such as soldiers on the ground or special operators.

“Smaller satellites ... are looking very attractive,” Shelton says, noting financial pressure on the space budget resulting from a Pentagon-wide spending cut of 8% in fiscal 2013.

Shelton noted these concepts while defending the Pentagon’s decision to terminate funding specified for the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program in the fiscal 2013 budget request. He says, however, that the command’s willingness to consider these small satellite and disaggregation concepts for mainstream missions shows that the ORS “spirit is going mainstream ... I don’t think those expressing concern [about the cut] fully appreciate just how much of the ORS philosophy has been captured in our future plans,” Shelton says.