Story updated May 29

WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency (SDA) announced plans to procure a separate ground system in support of its experimental missile defense satellites. The agency will seek to demonstrate advanced space-based sensors designed to track and destroy hypersonic missile threats.

SDA plans to award two separate contracts to build a ground system in support of these demonstrations. One procurement is dubbed Advanced Fire Control Ground Infrastructure (AFCGI), and will establish a cloud-based ground system at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. This system will serve as the nerve center to run missile tracking experiments, the first of which is the Foo Fighter constellation — short for Fire-control On Orbit Support to the Warfighter. 

Millennium Space Systems recently secured a contract to build eight satellites and provide initial ground support by 2027.

“AFCGI represents a critical step towards demonstrating advanced fire control capabilities,” SDA Director Derek Tournear told reporters May 24. The agency is seeking a “common, enduring ground infrastructure” for fire control prototype programs.

The Foo Fighter satellites will be used as a testbed for advanced sensor technology capable of detecting and tracking hypersonic missiles. The data collected by these satellites will support the development of a much larger constellation of tracking satellites in low Earth orbit that will be part of the Defense Department’s Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture. SDA, an agency under the U.S. Space Force, plans to spend about $4 billion a year developing the PWSA.

Missile defense is an extraordinarily complex challenge, requiring seamless data flow between satellites, ground systems, and interceptor missiles to guide them to destroy threats in-flight.

Two-part ground system

In addition to AFCGI to command the satellites themselves, SDA will award a separate Advanced Fire Control Mission Integration (AFCMI) contract for processing and integrating the fire-control tracking data.

The AFCMI system will take data from the Foo Fighters and future experiments, analyze it, and standardize the formatting so it can be utilized by the broader missile defense network.

A solicitation for the AFCMI system will be issued this summer. A contract award is expected in early 2025, Tournear said.

The decision to split the original ground system procurement stemmed from industry feedback, Tournear said. He explained that ground mission integration and data mission integration require distinct skill sets, and the two-pronged approach allows SDA to leverage the expertise best suited for each function.

Tournear explained that SDA initially planned to acquire a single, generic ground system for all satellite demonstrations. However, the technical complexity of fire-control technology necessitated the development of its own dedicated ground system.

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...