WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force’s first Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning spacecraft was encapsulated into the payload fairing of its Atlas 5 launch vehicle April 20 in preparation for a scheduled May 6 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., according to an April 26 press release from prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

The long-delayed first dedicated SBIRS satellite will be placed into geosynchronous orbit, a perch from which it will watch for telltale signs of missile launches. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Lockheed Martin has delivered two SBIRS payloads that are hosted on classified satellites in highly elliptical orbits and is under contract to deliver two more. The company is currently under contract to deliver four dedicated SBIRS spacecraft, the second of which is planned for launch in 2012.