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Air Force buys missile-warning satellites

The Air Force uses satellites to detect missile launches.
The Air Force uses satellites to detect missile launches.
Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin received a $1.9-billion contract June 24 to finish building two more missile-warning satellites for the U.S. Air Force.

Under the contract, awarded by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in the Los Angeles area, Lockheed Martin will complete production of the fifth and sixth Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites. The company had already received funding to begin work on the pair, which are slated to be available for launch in fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The first four SBIRS satellites are far along, with the first two orbiting Earth. The third is undergoing ground tests at a Lockheed Martin plant in Sunnyvale, Calif., and is scheduled for delivery to the Air Force late this year, the company said. The fourth satellite recently entered final assembly. SBIRS also includes two payloads on orbiting host satellites.

As a replacement for the Air Force’s aging Defense Support Program constellation, SBIRS is designed to detect launches of hostile ballistic missiles across the globe while supporting other intelligence-gathering missions. It is operated by the 460th Space Wing at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo.

“The SBIRS program delivers timely, reliable and accurate missile warning and infrared surveillance information to the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, combatant commanders, the intelligence community and other key decision makers,” Lockheed Martin said.

The Air Force is studying what it will buy after the fifth and sixth SBIRS satellites. A decision could come next year.

The SBIRS announcement comes about three weeks after Lockheed Martin won a $915-million contract to build a “Space Fence” radar for the Air Force. The ground-based radar is intended to help keep better tabs on dangerous debris in space.