Air Force, ULA prepare to launch missile defense satellite SBIRS GEO 4

"The satellite is part of an integrated architecture to allow us to be a bell ringer for the world," said Col. Dennis Bythewood.
By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 16, 2018 at 3:46 PM
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Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The modernization of the United States' missile monitoring and defense system is scheduled to meet another benchmark on Thursday with the launch of GEO-4, the fourth satellite in the Space-Based Infrared System, or SBIRS.

During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Tom McCormick, vice president for Lockheed Martin's overhead persistent infrared systems mission area, said the fourth satellite will complete the original baseline constellation, allowing SBIRS to finally offer worldwide coverage.

Lockheed Martin was responsible for the design and construction of GEO-4 and the United Launch Alliance will execute the payload's launch and deployment. The U.S. Air Force manages the missile defense system.

The newest SBIRS satellite is scheduled to launch at 7:52 p.m. ET on Thursday from Space Launch Complex-41 at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The payload will be carried into space by ULA's Atlas V rocket.

According to Todd McNamara, delta weather officer at Cape Canaveral, weather over the next two days should be relatively good.

"The probability of violating weather constraints is currently at 20 percent," McNamara said. "The only concern we have are those cumulus clouds coming off the Atlantic and moving onshore on Thursday."

The Atlas V rocket has been equipped with an extra strap-on booster to help it conduct a reentry burn and deorbit the Centaur, the rocket's upper stage.

"It's our goal to mitigate leaving any excess debris in orbit," said Col. Christopher "Shane" Clark, launch mission director
 with the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center in California.

Col. Dennis Bythewood, director of the remote sensing systems directorate
 at SMC, said the sensors on GEO-4 and the other SBIRS satellites are "leaps and bounds ahead" of the quality and capabilities of those used by the current monitoring system, the Defense Support Program.

The Air Force says the improved technology offered by SBIRS will help them identify dimmer targets -- Bythewood said the U.S. must continually improve the system's capabilities to detect missiles designed to have as small a heat signature as possible.

The constellation of satellites will collect data and relay it to an Air Force command center where it will be used to issue missile warnings and inform decisions related to missile defense systems, as well as improve battle space awareness and technical intelligence.

"The satellite is part of an integrated architecture to allow us to be a bell ringer for the world," Bythewood said.

Atlas V and GEO-4 are scheduled to separate 42 minutes after launch. After separation, the satellite will begin to circularize it's orbit. Once it has achieved a stable geostationary orbit, operators will deploy the satellite's appendices and turn on its systems. The systems will be tested over several weeks before GEO-4 is fully integrated into the SBRIS constellation.

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