WASHINGTON — A missile-tracking satellite developed by L3Harris for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency passed a critical design review, the company announced Dec. 20.

The satellite is for the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) program. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) in January awarded Northrop Grumman a $155 million and L3Harris a $121 million contract to develop prototypes for on-orbit demonstrations. Both companies have to deliver their satellites in 2023.

Ed Zoiss, president of L3Harris Space & Airborne Systems, said recent events such as China’s demonstration of a hypersonic glide vehicle “increase the urgency to counter hypersonics and advanced maneuvering threats.”

HBTSS satellites, equipped with infrared sensors and on-orbit data processing systems, will be deployed in low Earth orbit to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles. It is one of several proposed systems within the Department of Defense’s future low-Earth orbit space architecture. 

Space Development Agency Tracking Layer

L3Harris earlier this month announced that the Space Development Agency also approved the company’s satellite design for the agency’s Tracking Layer Tranche 0 constellation.

SDA in October 2020 selected L3Harris and SpaceX to each produce four satellites to demonstrate the capability to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles.

L3Harris received a $193 million contract for the four Tranche 0 satellites, scheduled to launch in early 2023.

MDA and SDA are pursuing separate programs for missile-tracking satellites although the U.S. Space Force is expected to take over the design of the future architecture. Congressional committees have warned DoD to avoid duplication of missile-defense satellite programs, and specifically raised concerns about overlap between SDA’s Tracking Layer and MDA’s HBTSS.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...