L3Harris reported on December 20 that a missile-tracking satellite it constructed for the US Missile Defense Agency has passed a major design assessment. The HBTSS (Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor) program uses the satellite. Northrop Grumman and L3Harris were granted a contract by the MDA (Missile Defense Agency) in January to produce prototypes for the on-orbit demonstrations.
The Missile Defense Agency of the US Department of Defense chose Northrop Grumman and L3Harris to create a prototype sensor spacecraft capable of monitoring hypersonic and ballistic missiles. Northrop Grumman was awarded a $155 million contract by the Missile Defense Agency on January 22. On January 14, L3Harris was awarded a $121 million contract.
The designs of Northrop Grumman and L3Harris were chosen from a pool of four contestants. Leidos, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and L3Harris were each granted $20 million contracts by the Missile Defense Agency in October of 2019 to design space sensors for the HBTSS (program). By July 2023, the two winners must provide prototype satellites.
Recent occurrences, such as China’s demo of the hypersonic glide vehicle, according to Ed Zoiss, who works as the president in charge of the L3Harris Space & Airborne Systems company, “raise the urgency to resist hypersonics and advanced maneuvering threats.”
HBTSS satellites will be placed in low Earth orbit featuring infrared sensors as well as on-orbit data processing systems to identify and monitor ballistic and hypersonic missiles. It’s one of several planned low-Earth orbit (LEO) space architecture systems by the Department of Defense.
Tracking Layer of the Space Development Agency
The Space Development Agency also authorized L3Harris’ satellite design for the agency’s Tracking Layer Tranche 0 constellation, the business reported earlier this month. Both L3Harris and SpaceX were chosen by SDA in October 2020 to create four satellites each to demonstrate the capabilities to detect and monitor ballistic and hypersonic missiles.
L3Harris received $193.5 million and SpaceX received $149 million from the Space Development Agency to create four satellites each to spot and monitor ballistic and hypersonic missiles. The contracts, which were announced on October 5, are for the first eight satellites of a potentially much bigger constellation of the sensor satellites referred as Tracking Layer Tranche 0 by the Space Development Agency.
The awards are the first time the US military has placed a satellite order with SpaceX, which constructed a factory in Seattle a few years ago to create thousands of tiny satellites for the Starlink broadband megaconstellation.
The 4 Tranche 0 satellites, due to deploy in early 2023, were awarded a $193 million deal to L3Harris. Although the US Space Force is likely to assume control of the design of the forthcoming architecture, MDA and SDA are working on independent missile-tracking satellite programs. Congressional committees have cautioned the Pentagon to avoid duplicating missile-defense satellite programs, citing worries about the Tracking Layer of SDA and the HBTSS of MDA.