U.S. Space Force Rethinks Missile-Tracking Strategy

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Credit: U.S. Space Force

The U.S. Space Force may begin testing early-warning satellites in medium-Earth orbit (MEO) as early as 2022, which aligns with comments made by a service official last week who said the Force Design team will assess the theory of putting missile-warning satellites into non-traditional orbits.

The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) announced in May that the Space Force awarded 18-month contracts to Boeing subsidiary Millennium Space Systems and Raytheon Technologies to create digital models for Missile Track Custody Protype designs and a payload critical-design review (CDR). The service used Other Transaction Authority via the Space Enterprise Consortium to award a $29 million contract to Raytheon and $28.1 million to Millennium Space.

“It will support U.S. Space Force’s architecture analysis by providing realistic cost, schedule and performance predictions, essentially enabling a digital ‘try it before you buy it’ approach,” Col. Timothy Sejba said in a statement. He is program executive officer for space development at SMC.

The SMC Track Custody team is coordinating with the Space Development Agency, Missile Defense Agency, Space Warfighting Analysis Center and Space Force Enterprise Architect Office to ensure the government is not duplicating efforts.

Now that the U.S. considers space a contested environment, the Pentagon is assessing ways to ensure the missile-warning technology does not fail. Traditionally, missile-warning satellites have resided in highly elliptical orbit or geosynchronous orbit (GEO). However, the Space Force is considering launching satellites in MEO and the Space Development Agency has plans to place these satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

The Space Force has designed itself as the U.S.’ first digital service, and for this program digital models will be used to evaluate the ability to integrate sensors designed to meet missile-tracking requirements and integrating this technology into future weapon systems, Millennium Space Systems CEO Jason Kim told Aerospace DAILY July 6.

“In MEO you can see a larger swath of the Earth, requiring fewer satellites than if you were in LEO,” Kim said. “Yet you still retain resiliency in numbers, more so than GEO because in GEO you would have less satellites.”

The Missile Track Custody Prototype evolved from the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared GEO Block 1 effort. Millennium and Raytheon both completed a Block 1 study mission-payload preliminary design review that will funnel into the Missile Track Custody Prototype payload CDR.

“With this approach, mission payload CDR can be fully digital in real-time with an authoritative set of engineering artifacts, where we can actually visualize how the system meets requirements, including cost and schedule,” Paul Meyer, vice president of Space and Command and Control Systems at Raytheon, said in a statement. “At that point, the digital CDR provides a fully informed, high-confidence launch point for the build phase.”

Future options of the Missile Track Custody Prototype effort include design, integration and launch of up to three prototype vehicles and integration into Space Force architecture and ground systems for both vendors.

Lee Hudson

Based in Washington, Lee covers the Pentagon for Aviation Week. Prior to joining Aviation Week in June 2018, Lee was at Inside Defense where she was managing editor for Inside the Navy.