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US Space Force Launches Satellite That Can Detect Missiles

The US Space Force launched a billion-dollar missile-detection satellite into orbit this week. After a minor 24-hour delay due to faulty temperature checks, the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 1:37 p.m. E.T. on Tuesday. 

The rocket is equipped with two small rideshare payloads as well as a Russian-build RD-180 main engine and strap-on solid-fuel boosters.  

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“Separation confirmed! The United Launch Alliance #AtlasV rocket has deployed the fifth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (#SBIRSGEO5) satellite to save lives through early warning missile detection,” ULA announced in a tweet.

“Thank you to our mission partners for the tremendous teamwork as we processed and launched this asset that provides powerful surveillance and critical capabilities to protect our warfighters. We are proud to work with the U.S. Space Force to continue to meet the national security needs of our country,” ULA Vice President of Government and Commercial Programs Gary Wentz said in a statement.

The launch took approximately 10-and-a-half minutes, and marked the fifth launch in a series of space-based infrared system satellite meant to replace the US’s current Defense Support Program constellation of surveillance satellites. 

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This also marked the 87th launch of the 194-foot-tall Atlas 5 rocket and the 72ns Atlas 5 to launch from Space Launch Complex-41 specifically. Space News reported Tuesday that “the spacecraft’s ‘Technology Demonstration Orbiter’ payloads – TDO-3 and TDO-4 – were successfully deployed and released from the 950,000-pound rocket’s Centaur upper stage around 16 and a half minutes after liftoff.”

“Nearly 43 minutes after liftoff, the satellite separated and deployed as well to a geosynchronous transfer orbit. A geosynchronous orbit is a high Earth orbit that allows satellites to match the rotation of the Earth,” according to Space.com.

According to the Associated Press, “Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.86 billion contract for the newly improved satellite in addition to one slated to launch in 2022.” The satellites work by using infrared payloads to detect heat signatures from missile exhaust, all around the world. The first satellites of their kind were launched back in 2011, and the next launch is set to occur on June 23rd this year.