Satellite Gathers Information In Tracking Missile Launch
The Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) research satellite gathered key data as it successfully tracked a boosting long-range missile, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced.
This type of capability is critical not only for defense against missiles launched by opponents at the United States or its allies, the capability also is key for swift detection of ground-based missiles that might be launched against U.S. military or commercial spacecraft or satellites.
China demonstrated just how critically, and quickly, the United States needs to obtain such capabilities when it launched a ground-based missile in January which destroyed an aging Chinese weather satellite in orbit, smashing it to bits that created a dangerous field of space debris.
Too, China painted a U.S. military satellite with a ground-based laser beam. Such beams can disable operations of satellites.
Many military analysts say those moves prove that China can hold at risk myriad U.S. military and commercial satellites. Some analysts say Beijing could use such missiles and lasers to blind American forces, at least temporarily, an assertion disputed by Pentagon leaders, who say U.S. forces have alternative means for intelligence and communications.
Further, the United States is expanding its abilities to detect threats to space assets, such as detecting launches of potential enemy missiles.
In the NFIRE test, a modified Minuteman II booster vehicle was launched Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at approximately 1:30 a.m. PT (4:30 a.m. ET) and then was tracked by the NFIRE satellite.
It has been in orbit since it was launched from the NASA facility at Wallops Island, Va. April 24.
This exercise provided an opportunity for the NFIRE satellite to collect high and low resolution images of a boosting rocket, which will improve understanding of missile exhaust plume observations and plume-to-rocket body discrimination.
Data from the NFIRE satellite was downlinked to the Missile Defense Space Experimentation Center (MDSEC) at the Missile Defense Integration & Operations Center (MDIOC) at Schriever AFB, Colo.
The NFIRE exercise campaign supports design and development of space-based sensors like the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) currently under development, as well as design and development of boost phase interceptor sensors.
Program officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the exercise.
MDA will use this data to validate and update models and simulations fundamental to missile defense technologies.
General Dynamics Corp. [GD] is the system integrator for the NFIRE mission, and designed and manufactured the satellite. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Science Applications International Corp., or SAIC, provided the primary payload, the Track Sensor Payload, and Orbital Sciences Corp. [ORB] provided the booster rocket system. The secondary payload for conducting crosslink satellite-to-satellite and satellite-to-ground communication experiments is the Laser Communication Terminal built by Tesat-Spacecom of Germany.