The US Air Force’s (USAF) fourth Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite has sent its first set of images back to Earth.
Known as ‘first light’, the event occurred when the SBIRS GEO Flight-4 missile-warning satellite turned on its powerful sensors for the first time during space vehicle checkout.
Developed by Lockheed Martin, the SBIRS GEO Flight-4 is the latest satellite to join the USAF’s orbiting missile warning constellation.
Lockheed Martin Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Systems Mission Area vice-president Tom McCormick said: “First light was a tremendous milestone for SBIRS GEO Flight-4 and we are very pleased with the high-quality and definition of the images we received back.
“With the launch of this satellite, SBIRS can now provide global coverage, with better-than-specified sensor pointing accuracy and the ability to detect even more targets than anticipated.”
The satellite, which is integrated with powerful scanning and staring infrared surveillance sensors, collects data to be used in the US military to detect missile launches, support ballistic missile defence, expand technical intelligence gathering, and strengthen situational awareness on the battlefield.
On 19 January, the SBIRS GEO Flight-4 was successfully launched on-board a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, US.
Only 37 minutes after its launch, the satellite began responding to the USAF’s 460th Space Wing’s commands.
Completing the baseline SBIRS constellation, the Flight-4 satellite joins SBIRS GEO Flights-1, 2 and 3, which were launched in 2011, 2013, and 2017 respectively.
In 2014, the USAF awarded a $1.86bn contract to Lockheed Martin for the development of the SBIRS GEO-5 and 6 spacecraft.