BMD Watch: SBIRS passes orbit tests

MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force announced last week it had concluded the early on-orbit checkout procedures of the second space-based infrared systems -- SBIRS -- sensor that already is functioning in a highly elliptical orbit -- HEO -- over the Northern Hemisphere. The Air Force said the system was designated SBIRS HEO-2.

"The successful launch and checkout of HEO-2 is a further demonstration of the strong, positive momentum of the SBIRS team," said SMC Commander, Lt. Gen. Tom Sheridan. "This is a critical step in delivering a revolutionary new capability that will address some of the most serious threats to our nation."


The U.S. Air Force said in a statement the SBIRS HEO-2 spacecraft payload was already surpassing expectations and its planned operating parameters in the fields of missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence and battle-space awareness.

The Air Force said SBIRS HEO-2 was already providing sensitivity that was enhanced by a factor of 10 and had five times the "revisit capability" of the previous Defense Support Program -- DSP -- infrared sensor.

"SBIRS is revolutionizing space-based infrared monitoring of the earth with its wide field of view, increased sensitivity, fast revisit rate and persistent presence," the Air Force statement said.


The SBIRS HEO-2 is operated by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center's Space Based Infrared Systems Wing in El Segundo, Calif., as part of the Air Force Space Command. The SBISW is working on programs to create and improve elliptical orbiting payloads and geo-synchronous orbiting satellites and sensors, along with the ground support and communications systems that they require.

"All of our SBIRS team members can be congratulated and justifiably proud of their contributions to the success of this critical program and the significant impact it will have on our national security," said SMC's Space Based Infrared Systems Wing Commander, Col. Roger Teague. "These payloads are delivering remarkable on-orbit capability and give us confidence as we prepare for the first geo-synchronous satellite launch."

SBIRS infrared sensors are designed to immediately locate "heat or hot gases from missiles and other man-made objects, terrestrial events like volcanic eruptions and wildfires, and weather data from clouds and storms," the Air Force statement said.

The system is already also locating and transmitting data on commercially significant static sources of infrared energy, including the flaring of methane gas from oil wells and pipelines.

The SBIRS HEO-2's highly elliptical orbits allow it to monitor the entire Northern Hemisphere for approximately 12 hours per day. The Air Force said the elongated, egg-shaped orbits stretched as far above the earth as 21,000 miles over the North Pole.


The Air Force successfully completed testing of the HEO-1 sensor in November 2006. The Air Force in its statement paid tribute to "the extraordinary efforts of the Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Aerospace and government team" that permitted the SBIRS Wing to transfer control of the first HEO payload to the 11th Space Warning Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., in November 2007.

The Air Force said that by September this year, data including alerts from the HEO-1 sensor would already be integrating into Defense Support Program IT services to U.S. war fighters.

Sarkozy plans BMD shield for France

President Nicolas Sarkozy has launched a ballistic missile defense revolution in France.

Sarkozy, an outspoken admirer of U.S. President George W. Bush's, Tuesday gave a speech outlining plans to transform France's entire armed forces and strategic structures along high-tech, lean, fast-reacting lines, Defense Industry Daily reported Thursday.

According to the DID report, Sarkozy said he was determined to retain the Force de Frappe, the independent French nuclear deterrent created more than 40 years ago by President Charles De Gaulle, founder of France's current Fifth Republic.

But Sarkozy also pointed the way for France to become a fully participating member of the NATO alliance for the first time since De Gaulle withdrew it from full participation back in the 1960s.


Sarkozy's speech reflected the conclusions of a high-powered study group he appointed after winning the presidency last year. The French president also in his speech embraced the working group's conclusion that France had to boost its defenses as quickly as possible against attack by Weapons of Mass Destruction -- WMDs -- especially against nuclear ballistic missile attack.

Sarkozy said these defenses had to include creating effective systems to detect hostile ballistic missile launches and other offensive and defensive systems.

The DID report noted programs such as France's MEDA Aster-30 missile already had anti-ballistic missile applications.

DID concluded France was going to double its current budget for space-based BMD and other intelligence-gathering systems, following the Pentagon's example. It said Sarkozy was also believed to want to develop long-range land-based radars that could locate hostile ballistic missile launches as far as 1,800 miles away.

DID said Sarkozy wanted to be able to have ground-based BMD systems operating by 2015 and space-based surveillance and warning systems in orbit by 2020.

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