The U.S. Air Force intends to hire Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems to study the feasibility of incorporating a next-generation missile warning sensor into the service’s Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS), according to a Nov. 3 posting on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site.

El Segundo, Calif.-based Raytheon started work in 2006 on an experimental missile warning sensor for the Air Force under a program now called the Third Generation Infrared Surveillance system (3GIRS). The company in October was awarded a 25-month, $46 million contract to upgrade the sensor to a fully flight-qualified payload.

Under the three-month “SBIRS Alternate Sensor Study” contract the Air Force intends to award Raytheon on a sole-source basis, the company would tell the service how much time and money would be needed to get the next-generation sensor ready to fly as part of the SBIRS constellation.

Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems of Azusa, Calif., is supplying the infrared sensors for the SBIRS satellites now in development and built the sensors for the Air Force’s legacy Defense Support Program missile warning satellites.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is the SBIRS prime contractor.