BOSTON — Next year’s planned launch of two experimental missile tracking satellites will add yet another dimension to the already complex task of integrating the various sensors that comprise the emerging U.S. missile defense architecture.
Preparing to utilize the Space Surveillance and Tracking System (STSS) satellites is an important agenda item these days for U.S. Brig. Gen. Robert Dehnert, program director for command, control, battle management and communications at the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The satellites will do little good if missile defense operators are not fully prepared to use them, and that means being able to incorporate the data into the MDA’s massive command and control network, he said.
“Tying it in is a big job,” Dehnert said in an interview.
The STSS satellites are expected to launch late next year aboard a single Boeing Delta 2 rocket.
Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., is the prime contractor for the STSS effort, with Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif., serving as the subcontractor building the payloads. Both the satellites and infrared sensor hardware originally were built for a missile tracking demonstration program that was canceled in 1999 due to delays and cost growth.
Dehnert and his staff are working closely with STSS program officials to figure out how to get the most out of the experiment. Some of the issues include how best to format and disseminate STSS data, Dehnert said.
The STSS demonstration is intended to help pave the way for an operational constellation of satellites for tracking ballistic missiles as they coast through space. In an April interview, Air Force Col. Christopher Pelc, STSS program manager, said the satellites could have some operational utility , particularly if their orbits are optimized for coverage of areas like Iran and North Korea.
Plans for an operational missile-tracking satellite constellation are not clear, however. The MDA had hoped to award a contract to begin building such a system next year, but Congress has directed the agency to delay that award and instead fund sensor technology research and further define its needs for the constellation.
Meanwhile, Dehnert pointed to the July 4 missile demonstrations by North Korea as an example of the some of the challenges inherent in the missile defense mission . North Korea’s outburst included a single launch of the long-range Taepodong 2 missile and several of shorter-range missiles.
Dealing with multiple missiles with varying ranges will require operators of tracking systems and interceptors to be able to quickly shift their focus from one geographical area to another, Dehnert said.
Over the next several years, a key challenge for missile defense operators will be integrating the various sensors that play a role in the mission. The architecture is designed to give these operators different perspectives of the battle space, Dehnert said, drawing an analogy to sporting events where the athletes and spectators seated high in the stands have different views of the playing field.
Among the sensors that will be tied together in the overall missile defense architecture are the Sea Based X-band Radar in Alaska and the Forward Based X-band Radar in Japan, Dehnert said. A key objective for 2007 involves integrating the Forward Based X-band Radar with the Aegis ships now being equipped to track and intercept missiles, he said. Linking the two systems will give operators of the sea-based missile defense system more time to prepare for an intercept, he said.
The command and control systems that serve as the nerve center of the missile defense architecture are being supplied by multiple contractors, including: Boeing Co. of Chicago; Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md.; Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles; Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass.; and General Dynamics of Falls Church, Va. Each contractor beings a different expertise to the table, Dehnert said.