Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $4.9 billion contract to build a triad of missile-warning satellites for the U.S. Space Force.
The satellites will monitor Earth from the geosynchronous orbit, an orbit at the altitude of 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers), where satellites appear suspended above a certain spot on Earth. There, they will provide an initial warning of ballistic or tactical missiles launched from virtually anywhere in the world.
Under the new contract, Lockheed Martin will manufacture, assemble, test, and deliver the three Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) satellites, as well as ground mission software and engineering support for launch vehicle integration, by May 2028, according to the Jan. 4 contract announcement.
The U.S. Space Force will operate the Next-Gen OPIR satellites, which will expand on, and eventually replace, existing Space-Based Infrared System satellites, also manufactured by Lockheed Martin. In addition to the three geosynchronous orbit satellites, the U.S. Space Force will also acquire two polar-orbit satellites made by Northrop Grumman, according to a report from Air Force Magazine.
Lockheed Martin was previously awarded a $2.9 billion contract in August 2018 to start developing the three Next-Gen OPIR satellites, which have improved missile warning capabilities and are more resilient against emerging threats than current satellites.
Northrop Grumman also received a $2.4 billion contract in May 2020 for the two polar satellites. Under that contract, Northrop Grumman is expected to complete phase one development by the end of 2025. Together, the five Next-Gen OPIR satellites will comprise a new constellation called Block 0, which is expected to come online in 2029, Air Force Magazine reported.
"The primary mission is to provide initial missile warning of a ballistic missile attack on the U.S., its deployed forces, and its allies," the U.S. Space Force said in budget documents, according to Air Force Magazine. "Next-Gen OPIR Space enhances detection and improves reporting of intercontinental ballistic missile launches, submarine-launched ballistic missile launches, and tactical ballistic missile launches."
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