Missile Detection Satellites
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA’s) two Space Tracking and Surveillance System-Demonstrator (STSS-D) satellites remained fairly quiet in 2014. Launched in September 2009, the satellites continue to circle the Earth at an altitude of 1,350 kilometers (840 miles). The satellites can track a missile in “stereo” (when both satellites’ infrared payloads track and provide data on the same object) from the time of a missile’s launch until it re-enters the atmosphere.
As of early 2015, Russia was not able to detect missile launches by means of its Oko missile warning satellite system. The last two of the system’s HEO satellites ceased operations in January 2015, and the last of Oko’s GEO satellites experienced a power problem in mid-2014, taking it offline. Oko is supposed to be composed of six satellites, some in GEO and others in HEO.
There were two SBIRS GEO satellites and two SBIRS HEO payloads in operation by the end of 2014. These operated in concert with the older DSP satellites to fulfill all four missions. Two more SBIRS GEO satellites will be added to the SBIRS constellation, possibly around 2020. The USAF continues to pursue plans established in 1995 for integrating all OPIR satellite data, developing a new ground system and testing transmission of commands to multiple systems in March 2015.
Satellites are essential tools for detecting hostile missiles being fired at allied forces. Systems such as the USAF Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-High program are designed to monitor and give maximum warning of ballistic missile launches originating anywhere on the planet. The system consists of two HEO satellites, three Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) spacecraft in LEO, as well as two GEO satellites, the most recent one being launched in March 2013.
Some satellites are optimized to serve unique military functions. Missile launch detection satellites, such as the USAF Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-High program, are designed to monitor and give maximum warning of ballistic missile launches originating anywhere on the planet. As of October 2012, there were two SBIRS-High payloads hosted on spacecraft in highly elliptical orbits. A third payload is planned for delivery to the USAF in 2013.
Transportation-based activities also can be considered to include U.S. efforts at ballistic missile defense. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) was established in 1999 “to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.” The MDA uses an integrated system of sensors and weapons to detect and destroy incoming ballistic missiles in their boost, midcourse, or terminal phase.