New satellite payloads for continuous early-warning missile detection
The US Space Force has awarded Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace a US$2.37-billion contract to design and build two sensor payloads for a pair of polar-orbiting satellites intended to warn of ballistic and hypersonic missile launches.
Recent events in Ukraine have made it all too clear that the world's nuclear arsenals are not just an unpleasant holdover from the Cold War, but still a very serious potential threat. To counter this, the US Space Force has a constellation of early warning satellites designed to monitor the world for signs of missile launches or nuclear explosions.
One of the latest of these is from the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Polar (NGP) program, which is building two satellites that are scheduled to launch in 2023 to replace previous spacecraft. The NGP satellites will go into highly elliptical orbits that will pass over the Earth's poles, so they will be able to cover the entire globe at various altitudes, especially the Arctic region, where nuclear missiles and submarines are most likely to be active.
The key instruments of the NGP are the infrared sensors, which will allow the satellite to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles by following their distinct heat signatures. Added to this will be an enhanced communications system that transmits the data back to Earth. In addition, the new systems will be hardened to make them better able to handle anti-satellite and cyber attacks.
"NGP combines Northrop Grumman’s proven experience in missile warning and defense with Ball Aerospace’s expertise in optical sensors and mission data processing," said Sarah Willoughby, vice president, overhead persistent infrared and geospatial systems, Northrop Grumman. "Our team’s solution for NGP will assure continuous coverage of the Northern Hemisphere – especially the critical Arctic region – to protect against incoming threats."
Source: Northrop Grumman