The United States (US) developed a missile warning system by making 14 missile tracking satellites that will be placed in low-Earth orbit. Foto/Space.com/L3Harris
The manufacture of 14 missile tracking satellites was entrusted to Maxar Technologies to provide limited global indication, warning and tracking of conventional and advanced missile threats, including hypersonic missile systems. Hypersonic weapons, capable of moving at speeds of Mach 5 or more, are the focus of the United States military as well as several superpowers.
The congressional spending bill allocates an additional $550 million in fiscal 2022 to accelerate development of Tranche 1, the second set of satellites. The allocation came because SDA had sounded the alarm signaling the development of Russian and Chinese hypersonic vehicles.
The SDA missile tracking system is now developing the Tranche 1 tracking layer, which will enhance Tranche 0, the first set of 28 satellites to launch with SpaceX starting in September. For Tranche 0, eight tracking layer satellites will be used to detect threats and send information to 20 tracking satellites, which can send their data to the weapons platform.
Like the initial constellation, Tranche 1 will also include 28 infrared sensor satellites that are now estimated to cost $2.5 billion, according to a SpaceNews report citing an anonymous Department of Defense official. Then L3 Harris owns a $700 million share of the SDA Tranche 1 contract, which amounts to $1.3 billion.
During a July briefing, SDA Director Derek Tournear said that Tranche 1 would be the first satellite to target hypersonic maneuvering vehicles, and directly link Chinese and Russian activities. “These satellites are specifically designed to catch up to the next generation of threats out there,” he said.
The satellite will be produced by Maxar in 2024 for L3Harris Technologies, which with Northrop Grumman are building the first two stages of the SDA constellation. Maxar’s new announcement refers to the second batch of satellites, which L3Harris will launch in 2025.
In June, the US hypersonic missile defense program narrowed the scope of its hypersonic development to two prototypes produced by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Missiles. In addition, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a hypersonic missile interceptor program.