Northrop Grumman has handed over a payload for the fourth Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite of the US Air Force’s (USAF) Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) to Lockheed Martin.

Equipped with sophisticated scanning and staring sensors, the payload is scheduled to be integrated with the SBIRS GEO-4 satellite bus in final assembly, integration and testing at Lockheed’s satellite manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale, California, US.

Lockheed Martin SBIRS Follow-on Production (SFP) programme director Louie Lombardo said: "The completion of this payload is a critical milestone keeping us on schedule for delivering the SBIRS GEO-4 satellite to the air force in 2016.

"This payload delivery — the third of four payload deliveries for the SBIRS SFP programme in the past 15 months — further demonstrates that SBIRS is in the regular cadence of full production."

Northrop Grumman Military/Civil Space and Ground business area vice-president Anne Ostroff said: "The performance of payloads on-orbit has been excellent and demonstrates unique capabilities that are needed to address current and evolving threats."

The payload’s sensors are designed to provide the satellite with improved infrared sensitivity and a reduction in area revisit times over the legacy constellation.

"The payload’s sensors are designed to provide the satellite with improved infrared sensitivity and a reduction in area revisit times."

In particular, the scanning sensor would provide a wide area surveillance of missile launches and natural phenomena across the earth, while the staring sensor is expected to be used to observe smaller areas of interest with superior sensitivity.

The SBIRS satellites are designed to deliver timely and accurate warning of missile launches to the US President, Defence Secretary, combatant commanders and other key decision makers, using a resilient mix of GEO satellites and highly elliptical orbit (HEO) payloads, and related ground hardware and software.

Additional tasks include the provision of support for a range of critical missions, such as missile defence, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness.

Under contract for production of four HEO payloads and four GEO satellites, Lockheed has to date delivered two satellites, while the third is scheduled to be delivered by the year-end.

The company also secured funding to purchase long-lead parts for GEO-5 and GEO-6 satellites.

Image: An artistic impression of USAF’s SBIRS GEO spacecraft in orbit. Photo: courtesy of Los Angeles Air Force Base.

Defence Technology