The US Air Force (USAF) has launched the fourth Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) missile-warning satellite on-board a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, US.

Following the launch, the airforce established contact with the Lockheed Martin-built satellite, which responded to the USAF’s 460th Space Wing’s commands.

SBIRS GEO Flight-4 is the latest addition to the airforce’s orbiting missile warning constellation comprising three satellites, each of which is equipped with scanning and staring infrared surveillance sensors.

Data collected by the sensors is used by the US military to detect missile launches, support ballistic missile defence, expand technical intelligence gathering, and strengthen situational awareness on the battlefield.

SBIRS is now expected to provide global coverage with the addition of the satellite.

Lockheed Martin overhead persistent infrared systems mission area vice-president Tom McCormick said: “SBIRS is the nation’s 24/7 global watchman, with infrared eyes ready to detect and deliver early warning and tracking of ballistic missiles.

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“A cornerstone of the nation’s missile defence system, SBIRS is proving even more precise and powerful than expected.

“SBIRS is proving even more precise and powerful than expected.”

“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 modernised LM 2100 satellite bus at no additional cost to the airforce.”

A new SBIRS ground control system stationed at Buckley Air Force Base serves as the hub for the entire SBIRS satellite constellation and receives data from the satellites’ sensors.

Once the data is received, the SBIRS control system and its operators prepare actionable reports for defence, intelligence, and civil applications.

The satellite will transition to its final location in geosynchronous orbit, around 22,000 miles above the Earth.