Space Test Program
Published January 25, 2007
Space Test Program (STP) is designated as the executive agent for all DoD R&D experiments and is a tri-service program (Air Force, Navy, and Army) managed from Kirtland AFB, NM and Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX. STP manifests DoD R&D experiments that are assessed and prioritized at the annual DoD Space Experiments Review Board (SERB), chaired by SAF/AQS. The SERB serves as the focal point of space technology demonstration within the DoD. Over 51 years, STP has executed 259 missions and provided space access for 586 DoD experiments. Data from these experiments has directly and dramatically enhanced current operational space capabilities.
Payloads sponsored by Department of Defense agencies that do not have their own funds to integrate, launch, and operate spacecraft gain spaceflight access via STP. Annually, the Air Force Secretariat convenes the Space Experiments Review Board (SERB), comprised of voting members from all DoD agencies. The SERB reviews requests for space flights and produces an annual list of requests arranged in order of priority for available flights. Each year, STP launches as many SERB payloads as possible, considering priority, opportunity, and funding. SMC and its organizational predecessors have managed STP for the DoD since the program officially began in 1965.
STP demonstrates cutting-edge, emerging technologies in space, prior to operational use; integrates payloads, and funds launch services and 1st year of on-orbit ops across all services. STP, through the OL-S location at Johnson Space Center, is the single face to NASA for all DoD payloads on the International Space Station, and other human rated launch vehicles, via both domestic and international partners. The Space test Program is also the front door for all auxiliary payload launch service requests on Air Force National Security Space Launches (NSSL).
Space Systems Division first set up an office for planning and coordination of flights for space experiments on 1 December 1963. An important consideration in planning for such flights was the fact that the new Titan IIIC launch vehicle (which made its first flight on 18 June 1965) would provide more opportunities for launching secondary payloads. As the most powerful launch vehicle in the inventory, it would be capable of launching more and heavier payloads on each mission than it was then scheduled to carry.
In view of that, a memorandum of 6 May 1965 from the Director of Defense Research and Engineering asked the Air Force to identify experiments worthy of including in the new vehicle’s multiple payload dispensers. On 12 July 1965, General Schriever, then commander of Air Force Systems Command, ordered the establishment of a command program managed by SSD to rank all experiments whose sponsors proposed to use the excess payload capacity of the new Titan IIIC.
AFSC expanded the types of launch vehicles that would be used in the program a few months later. SSD soon named the new program the Space Experiments Support Program, and in September 1965, convened the first meeting of representatives from various government agencies to select experiments for available launches.
On 12 March 1968, the Air Staff announced that SESP would be responsible for providing all flight opportunities for research and technology experiments sponsored by government agencies. The program was renamed the Space Test Program in July 1971 to better describe the broader mission it was beginning to perform. DoD customers with their own funding were able to access all the services of the Space Test Program without having to compete at the Space Experiments Review Board.
By 1982, the DoD, which had been directed to develop space systems for launch on the Space Shuttle, began flying most of its STP experiments on the Shuttle. After the Challenger accident in 1986, this "all eggs in one basket" strategy proved to be a big problem for DoD's access to space. This resulted in a shift back to Evolved Launch Vehicles and, in some cases, changes to DoD space systems. In 1988 the Shuttle began flying STP experiments again, but the shift was toward standardized payload integration system designs to lower costs and to enable potential integration of experiments into other launch vehicles, should the Shuttle become unavailable.
The first SESP mission (P67-1) was launched on 29 June 1967 using a Thor Burner II launch vehicle. It consisted of two separate satellites carrying geodesy and aurora experiments for the Army and Navy. To date, STP has executed 259 missions and provided space access for 579 DoD experiments. Many of those missions tested concepts and technology for later operational military satellite systems. In fact, from the early 1970s to the early 2000s, every operational satellite system for DoD flew preliminary experiments through SESP or STP.
Today, STP drives space innovation by testing novel approaches to orbit, exploring and developing international partnerships, and enhancing the baseline of fundamental space science.
For more information about us and our role within our parent organization please visit The Space and Missile Systems Center webpage at the following link: https://www.losangeles.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Article/343702/space-and-missile-systems-center/