Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman select payload providers for Space Force missile-warning satellites

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Raytheon will make two payloads for the GEO missile warning satellites. A Northrop-Ball Aerospace team will make two payloads for the polar satellites

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin announced March 1 it has selected Raytheon Technologies to supply a second payload for the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next Gen OPIR) geosynchronous satellites.

Lockheed Martin is producing three geosynchronous Next Gen OPIR satellites for the U.S. Space Force. 

The company in 2020 selected Raytheon and a Northrop Grumman/Ball Aerospace team to design competing sensor payloads for Next-Gen OPIR satellites. Both are on contract to each provide one payload, but only Raytheon was selected to make a second payload to complete the three-satellite constellation. 

The payload designs from both competitors completed critical design reviews in 2021 and are on track to fly on the first two Next Gen OPIR satellites, Lockheed Martin said. It has yet to be determined which payload will be aboard the first satellite scheduled to launch in 2025.

“These advanced OPIR payloads will support the critical mission by leveraging technologies with new capabilities on an aggressive schedule,” said Lockheed Martin’s program vice president Joseph Rickers.

Lockheed Martin in August 2018 received a $2.9 billion contract for development and in January 2021 a $4.9 billion contract for the production of three geosynchronous Next Gen OPIR satellites that provide initial warning of a ballistic or tactical missile launch anywhere on the globe. 

The Space Force said the Next-Gen OPIR satellites will augment the coverage provided by existing Space Based Infrared System satellites, which also were made by Lockheed Martin. 

The Space Force is acquiring five Next-Gen OPIR satellites — the three geosynchronous orbit satellites made by Lockheed Martin and two polar orbit satellites made by Northrop Grumman.

Northrop, Ball to make payloads for polar satellites

Northrop Grumman also announced on March 1 that both Next-Gen OPIR polar satellites will carry payloads made by the Northrop-Ball Aerospace team. 

“Our team’s solution for NGP will assure continuous coverage of the northern hemisphere – especially the critical Arctic region – to protect against incoming threats,” said Sarah Willoughby, vice president of overhead persistent infrared and geospatial systems at Northrop Grumman.

In May 2020, the U.S. Space Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $2.37 billion contract for the development of two polar satellites. Randy Weidenheimer, acting deputy program manager for Next Gen OPIR polar at Northrop Grumman, told SpaceNews that the company expects to receive a production contract in mid-2025.

The two satellites will operate in highly elliptical orbits, using infrared sensors to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles. They will have an enhanced communication system to transmit data to the ground to help identify infrared heat signatures of incoming threats.

Next Gen OPIR polar satellite rendering. Credit: Northrop Grumman