The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will not include a target-acquisition sensor in its forthcoming missile-tracking satellites, as part of an effort to streamline the system and control costs.
The agency’s new design for its next space-based missile-tracking system will be simpler than the two Northrop Grumman Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellites now conducting a demonstration in space, according to MDA and industry officials.
The decision was made following a recommendation from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which has a lead role in studying design options for the forthcoming Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS).
Two Northrop Grumman satellites, which were born out of the former Space-Based Infrared System Low program, are now in orbit. They contain both target acquisition and tracking sensors. Together, the sensors have proven the ability to conduct “birth-to-death” sensing of ballistic missile launches. While the acquisition sensor is designed for detecting a hot missile plume, the tracking sensor is optimized for tracking a cold warhead during its difficult-to-detect midcourse of flight.
For PTSS, however, MDA is opting to forgo the target-acquisition sensor and design a satellite only with tracking capability, according to defense officials. This approach is taken mainly to simplify the satellite design and with an eye toward lowering risk and cost in making the satellites.