New hypersonic missile tracking satellites pass critical design review

WASHINGTON – Prototype satellites that will help the U.S. Missile Defense Agency track hypersonic threats have passed a critical design review, which means contractors can move forward with manufacturing.

The Missile Defense Agency selected L3Harris Technologies and Northrop Grumman in January to design, build and demonstrate prototype satellites for its hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensor. L3Harris received $ 122 million, while Northrop Grumman received $ 155 million.

Unlike the current Space Force missile warning constellation, which is made up of a handful of satellites more than 20,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, HBTSS will operate in low Earth orbit as part of ‘a proliferating constellation of hundreds of satellites.

Satellites built by the Space Development Agency will first detect hypersonic and ballistic threats, passing under the guard of the object as it passes in and out of view of individual satellites on an orbital mesh network of satellites. Guard will eventually be transferred to the Missile Defense Agency’s more sensitive HBTSS sensors, which can create targeting data for interception.

“The combination of the high speed, maneuverability and relatively low altitude of some of the emerging threats from advanced missiles makes them difficult targets for our current missile defense systems,” the agency explained during the handover. contracts. “HBTSS is necessary because we cannot populate the Earth and the oceans with terrestrial radars to meet this need. The “birth-to-death” tracking that HBTSS can provide when integrated with ground-based sensors will help maintain guard against missile threats from launch to interception, regardless of location. “

Northrop Grumman announced that it completed its critical design review in November.

“When it comes to national security, there is no room for error,” said Sarah Willoughby, corporate vice president for OPIR and geospatial systems. “This critical design review puts Northrop Grumman on track to provide an essential component of our missile defense architecture to protect the United States and its allies against hypersonic threats. “

L3Harris announced its completion on December 20, while noting that it had already started construction.

“L3Harris is moving rapidly, working with our customer, to deliver prototype HBTSS satellites that demonstrate the sensitivity and fire control service quality required to support the hypersonic destruction chain,” said Ed Zoiss, president of the company’s space and airborne systems.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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