Maxar to build 14 missile tracking satellites for new warning system

Maxar Technologies will help build the US satellite-based missile warning system.

The Colorado-based company will place 14 tracking satellites as part of the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) infrastructure in orbit to help with US anti-satellite weapons technology, Maxar announced. (will open in a new tab) Tuesday (9 August). The satellites will be manufactured by 2024 for L3Harris Technologies, which, together with Northrop Grumman, is creating the first two stages of the SDA constellation. Maxar’s new announcement is for the second batch of satellites that L3Harris plans to launch in 2025.

Maxar officials said satellites in low Earth orbit will help achieve the SDA constellation’s goals of “providing limited global guidance, warning and tracking of conventional and advanced missile threats, including hypersonic missile systems.”

On the subject: What is a ballistic missile and how does it work?

Hypersonic weapons that travel at Mach 5 or higher are targeted by the United States military as well as international players. In June, the US Hypersonic Missile Defense Program narrowed the development of hypersonic systems to two prototypes produced by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Missiles.

The Congressional spending bill allocated an additional $550 million. (will open in a new tab) in fiscal year 2022 to accelerate the development of Tranche 1, the second set of satellites. The distribution comes as the SDA is sounding the alarm about Russian and Chinese development of hypersonic vehicles, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a hypersonic interceptor missile program.

The SDA Missile Tracking System is currently developing the Tranche 1 tracking layer, which upgrades Tranche 0, the first set of 28 satellites to be launched with SpaceX in September.

Under tranche 0, eight tracking layer satellites will be used to detect threats and send information to 20 tracking satellites that can send the received data to a weapons platform, according to a 2020 DoD release. (will open in a new tab).

Like the original constellation, Tranche 1 will also include 28 infrared satellites, estimated at $2.5 billion, according to a SpaceNews report. (will open in a new tab) referring to an anonymous official from the Department of Defense. L3 Harris has $700 million (will open in a new tab) share of Tranche 1 SDA contracts totaling $1.3 billion.

During the July briefing (will open in a new tab)SDA director Derek Tournear said that Tranche 1 will be the first set of satellites to target hypersonic maneuvering vehicles and pointed directly to Chinese and Russian activities.

“These satellites are specifically designed to deal with this version of the next generation of threats,” he said, adding: “This is a new capability that we are bringing.”

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