The U.S. Air Force intends to use an Orbital ATK satellite platform for the STPSat-6 mission. Shown above is an artist's concept of the GEOStar-1 platform Orbital ATK offers for national security missions in geostationary orbit. Credit: Orbital ATK

WASHINGTON – Orbital ATK will build the Defense Department’s next experimental satellite under a $78 million contract announced Feb. 3.

The Dulles, Virginia-based company will provide “integration and early on-orbit support” for the Pentagon’s Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6), according to a Pentagon press release.

The Air Force announced in 2015 that the primary payload on the satellite will be the Space and Atmospheric Burst Reporting System, or SABRS, designed to detect nuclear explosions and collect data on space weather.

STPSat-6 will also include eight secondary payloads from the Space Test Program office, National Nuclear Security Administration, NASA, and other DoD agencies.

The satellite will be built on an existing Orbital ATK bus, according to a press release from the company.

“This flexible and modular satellite bus platform provides an especially unique opportunity to host multiple instruments from three departments of government on one spacecraft, achieving customer goals at an affordable price,” said Chris Long, Orbital ATK’s vice president for national space systems, in a statement.

According to the Air Force’s 2015 announcement of the development of the satellite, it is designed to orbit between 80 and 120 degrees west longitude and operate for at least eight years.

Some $17.8 million is being obligated at the time of the award using Air Force research development, test and evaluation funds. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, is overseeing the contract, which is expected to be completed by Aug. 15, 2021, according to a press release from the Pentagon.

STPSat-6 will be the primary payload onboard the STP-3 launch, planned for June 2019. The launch is currently up for bid between the United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.

The Space Test Program is a Defense Department effort to field and evaluate space capabilities quickly, providing faster response for changing military needs.

Phillip Swarts is the military space reporter for SpaceNews. He previously covered space and advanced technology for Air Force Times, the Justice Department for The Washington Times, and investigative journalism for the Washington Guardian;...