Space-based sensors can expand the range and effectiveness of the U.S. Navy's Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) capabilities, a recent missile defense test has shown.
Conducted Feb. 13 by the Navy and U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), an Aegis "launch on remote" test used tracking data from the Space Tracking and Surveillance System-Demonstrators satellites to form a fire control solution for the missile interceptor. The satellites were built by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) as prime contractor; Raytheon supplied the infrared sensor payloads for both satellites.
The quality and accuracy of STSS-D tracking data were sufficient for a Navy Aegis guided missile cruiser to launch a Standard Missile-3 Block 1A interceptor "on remote" before the on-board radar's track could be used to launch the interceptor.
"This test shows decisively that space-based sensors are a ballistic missile's worst nightmare," said Doug Young, vice president, missile defense and warning, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Redondo Beach, Calif. "The mature technologies onboard both STSS-D satellites are demonstrating capabilities like continuous missile tracking that are possible only from the high ground of space."
During the test, designated FTM-20, the satellites leveraged their low-Earth orbit position to acquire and track the missile target and deliver the data via the Ballistic Missile Defense System to an Aegis cruiser at sea to quickly form a firing solution and launch the SM-3 1A interceptor.
"Aegis launch on remote essentially expands the area an Aegis cruiser can defend by leveraging satellite data to engage the threat earlier. This is a true 'force multiplier' because it uses existing interceptors," said David Bloodgood, the company's STSS program manager. "The STSS-D satellites demonstrated that future low Earth Orbit space capabilities can be a force multiplier for existing missile defense systems."
Both satellites participate in tests such as FTM-20 to demonstrate the ability of a space sensor to provide high-precision, real-time tracking of missiles and midcourse objects that enable closing the fire control loops with BMDS interceptors.
They use sensors capable of detecting visible and infrared light to track missiles through their full course of flight. Lessons learned from these tests will inform future operational BMDS space capabilities.