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The SBIRS GEO Flight-4 satellite
The launch of the fourth SBIRS satellite provides full global coverage for the U.S. Air Force’s infrared-based orbiting missile warning system.

SBIRS Scans from Space for Ballistic Missiles

The launch of the fourth SBIRS satellite provides full global coverage for the U.S. Air Force’s infrared-based orbiting missile warning system.

The U.S. Air Force’s 460th Space Wing is now “talking” with the fourth Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) satellite after its successful launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  Built by Lockheed Martin, the SBIRS GEO Flight-4 satellite is responding to the Wing’s commands as planned. Signal acquisition was confirmed approximately 37 minutes after the satellite’s 7.48 p.m. EST launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

This is the latest satellite to join the U.S. Air Force’s orbiting missile warning constellation equipped with powerful scanning and staring IR surveillance sensors. The sensors collect data for use by the military to detect missile launches, support ballistic missile defense, expand technical intelligence gathering, and bolster situational awareness on the battlefield. The satellite also completes the initial constellation and allows SBIRS to provide global coverage.

On the ground at Buckley AFB, a sophisticated new SBIRS ground control station designed by Lockheed Martin serves as the nerve center for the entire SBIRS satellite constellation and receives large amounts of data from the satellites’ powerful sensors. The SBIRS control system and its operators convert this data into actionable reports for defense, intelligence, and civil applications.

“A cornerstone of the nation’s missile defense system, SBIRS is providing even more precise and powerful than expected,” said Tom McCormick, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Overhead Persistent Infrared systems mission area. “Space is a place to do great things, and we’re already improving on SBIRS, upgrading our fifth and sixth SBIRS GEO satellites to our modernized LM 2100 satellite bus at no additional cost to the Air Force. On SBIRS 5 and 6, the Air Force saves $1 billion through improved production and management efficiencies.”

Lockheed Martin completed a major upgrade to the SBIRS ground control system as well in late 2016, with the new SBIRS Block 10 system providing faster data collection, improved threat detection, and improved target tracking compared to earlier versions of the ground control system. The SBIRS Block 10 ground control system also provides the Air Force with improved efficiency by consolidating ground control for the legacy Defense Support Program, as well as SBIRS satellites and payloads in GEO and highly elliptical orbits.

The SBIRS GEO Flight-4 satellite (see figure) was manufactured in the Lockheed Martin facility in Sunnyvale, Ca. The satellite is in the process of making the transition to its final geosynchronous orbit, approximately 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth. It will join the first three SBIRS satellites, launched in 2011, 2013, and 2014, respectively.

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