SDA To Demonstrate Hypersonic Missile Tracking In 2024

Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear

Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear

Credit: U.S. Defense Department

The U.S. Space Development Agency (SDA) intends to track a hypersonic missile defense test next spring, Director Derek Tournear told reporters March 29.

SDA is set to launch its first set of satellites, known as Tranche 0, on March 31 from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after scrubbing an attempt a day earlier. The mission is to launch a total of 10 satellites designed for missile tracking, including two made by SpaceX. Those tracking satellites will weigh 1,400-1,500 kg (3,080-3,300 lb.) each and be equipped with two optical communications terminals and a wide field-of-view sensor payload. The other eight satellites will be smaller transport-layer spacecraft made by York Satellite Systems.

SDA plans to launch another 18 satellites—six tracking and nine transport, in June.

“In spring of ’24 is when those test flights are going to be demonstrated,” Tournear said, later confirming the missile would be hypersonic but not specifying which one. SDA will be a part of the demonstrations to track the vehicles being flown.

Ultimately, the system is about moving information from tracking satellites down through the transport-layer satellites to provide fire-control targeting information to users on the ground. “We want to get them data that is fire-control quality that they can utilize to release weapons.”

SDA has been working closely with the Missile Defense Agency to make sure data can be moved from one system to the other.

[Editor's Note: This story was amended to reflect the Tranch 0 launch scrub.]

Jen DiMascio

Based in Washington, Jen manages Aviation Week’s worldwide defense, space and security coverage.