Pentagon Grants Contracts for Upcoming Generation of Compact Missile Defense Satellites

The Pentagon has awarded contracts worth $1.5 billion to Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin for the development of a “swarm” of 72 tiny prototype satellites. These satellites are intended to detect incoming enemy missiles and are part of the U.S. Space Force’s planned Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture.

Each company will be responsible for building and operating 36 satellites, with Lockheed Martin receiving $816 million and Northrop Grumman receiving $733 million for the project. These small satellites, which are approximately one-eighth the size of current satellites, make up the “Tranche 2 Transport Layer” of the overall architecture.

The Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture aims to address the limitations of relying on a few large missile defense satellites positioned in geosynchronous orbit around 22,000 miles above Earth. These satellites are currently used to track ballistic and hypersonic missiles, particularly those from China, Russia, and North Korea.

The smaller satellites, operating in low orbit at around 600 miles above Earth, offer several advantages. They are more cost-effective and can be developed more quickly. Additionally, their proximity to the ground makes them better equipped to detect new types of hypersonic missiles that fly closer to the surface. The “proliferated” nature of these satellites also reduces their vulnerability as they are less attractive targets compared to a single, large-scale satellite.

The deployment of these prototype satellites will occur in phases. The first 28 satellites, known as Tranche 0, are scheduled to be launched this year, with the initial 10 already deployed into low Earth orbit in April. Tranche 1, consisting of over 160 satellites, will follow in late 2024, and Tranche 2’s swarm of 72 satellites is expected to be delivered in 2026.

According to SDA Director Derek Tournear, Tranche 2 will provide global persistence for the capabilities of Tranche 1 and will include advanced tactical data links and future proliferated missions. These new models will incorporate advanced tactical communication technology.

The Pentagon’s investment in this swarm of tiny missile defense satellites represents a shift towards a more agile and versatile approach to space-based defense systems. By leveraging smaller satellites that can operate together, the U.S. military aims to enhance its ability to detect and track incoming missiles, ultimately strengthening its national security.

Source: United Press International