ORS-1 launch

ORS-1 launches on June 29, 2011. The reconnaissance satellite could be the DoD Operationally Responsive Space Office's last. (courtesy NASA)

Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine has published my feature on an interesting — and very much threatened — U.S. government effort to assemble and launch satellites within a week of a pressing need. It takes years now.

The Operationally Responsive Space office‘s funding, which is pretty meager by space-business standards anyway, was under pressure when I visited their office at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, N.M. last August. Since, Congress  has proposed to cut it entirely.

One can debate the need for on-demand satellites — though drones can’t do everything, particularly with no boots on the ground, which seems to be a prevailing (and sensible) U.S.  military strategy. It’s harder to argue that figuring out ways to build spacecraft faster and, over time, more cheaply, isn’t worth investing a drop or two from the $20-odd-billion-a-year military space bucket.