Certification work continues on new missile warning craft
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: March 19, 2012
The lead spacecraft in the U.S. military's new generation of missile early-warning satellites is delivering better-than-expected results as exhaustive testing continues 22,300 miles above the planet.
Within weeks, the craft maneuvered itself into the proper orbital position, deployed various appendages and commenced a rigorous checkout period that remains in work today to prove its capabilities before the satellite is entrusted for missile-launch detection.
"We've been extremely pleased with the performance of this first-of-its-kind spacecraft," said Col. James Planeaux, director of the Air Force's Infrared Space Systems Directorate. "We fully expect GEO-1 to enter services as an invaluable military asset that will help protect our nation and its allies for many years to come."
The Air Force reports that testing has found SBIRS GEO 1, valued at more than $1.2 billion, can spot targets 25 percent dimmer than required with an intensity measurement that is 60 percent more accurate than specifications. What's more, the accuracy for payload pointing is nine times more precise than required.
"This satellite is delivering outstanding data to the user community and is performing exceptionally well as it proceeds through its rigorous certification process," said Jeff Smith, vice president of Lockheed Martin's Overhead Persistent Infrared mission area. "The government and industry team is focused on executing a smooth certification process and delivering the full value of SBIRS to the warfighter."
Lockheed Martin is building a fleet of SBIRS GEO satellites to replace the legacy Defense Support Program warning satellites. DSP craft rotate in orbit, enabling their infrared telescopes to scan the planet in a windshield wiper-motion looking for heat signatures of missile plumes.
SBIRS GEO does that scanning, plus includes an addition instrument to stare at a particular part of the globe for signs of threat.
Testing between the new satellite and fine-tuning its ground support network should be completed in May, officials said, and the craft will work through a trial period for final evaluation this fall.
"This first GEO satellite is expected to be certified for operations by U.S. Strategic Command by the end of 2012," the Air Force says.
Originally conceived in the Cold War to focus on intercontinental ballistic missiles, the warning system has evolved to today's short-range missile threats. SBIRS brings new technologies to make quicker detections of fainter objects.
The constellation of satellites continuously monitor the globe to alert the national leadership and battlefield commanders of missile launches, and SBIRS is designed to spot events quicker and disseminate the warnings faster than ever before.
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