Air Force puts next element of missile-warning system in place

The Air Force’s successfully launched the second Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO-2) spacecraft Tuesday evening. The Lockheed Martin-built satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The SBIRS program delivers missile warning and infrared surveillance information to senior decisions makers such as combatant commanders and the intelligence community. The SBIRS satellites are designed to enhance global missile launch detection capability in support of the ballistic missile defense system, and expand the country’s technical intelligence gathering capacity while bolstering situational awareness for warfighters.

The SBIRS architecture includes a mix of satellites in geosynchronous (GEO) orbit, hosted payloads in highly elliptical earth (HEO) orbit, and ground hardware and software. The first satellite GEO-1 was launched in May of 2011, the second is now in orbit, and four are planned. There are also two HEO payloads in HEO orbit.

SBIRS GEO-2 includes scanning and staring sensors that will deliver improved infrared sensitivity and a reduction in area revisit times over the current constellation, according to Lockheed Martin. The scanning sensor will provide a wide area surveillance of missile launches and natural phenomena across the Earth, while the staring sensor will be used to observe smaller areas of interest with superior sensitivity.

The SBIRS team is led by the Infrared Space Systems Directorate at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Force Base, El Segundo, CA. Lockheed Martin is the SBIRS prime contractor, and Northrop Grumman is the payload integrator. SMC operates the SBIRS system.

Lockheed Martin’s SBIRS contracts include four HEO payloads, four GEO satellites, and ground assets to receive, process, and disseminate the infrared mission data. The team has also begun initial work on the fifth and sixth GEO satellites.

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