Home >> May 2008 Edition >> FOCUS ON: Space Tracking and Surveillance System
FOCUS ON: Space Tracking and Surveillance System
Excerpted from the Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency’s STSS Fact Sheet and their BMDS Booklet entitled “Missile Defense—Worldwide”

The United States, in active partnership with its allies, has fielded an initial layered integrated Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). The United States has come a long way since President Ronald Reagan first delivered his challenge to the defense community 25 years ago—to develop antiballistic missile technologies to improve our national security and lessen our reliance on nuclear deterrence. Although the nature of the threat has changed substantially since he envisioned the Strategic Defense Initiative, the harsh realities of today’s global security environment push the United States to field missile defenses as soon as possible.

Ballistic missile defense is one of the most complex and challenging missions in the Department of Defense (DoD). A ballistic missile’s altitude, speed, and range leave a defender little time to react. To meet this challenge, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is developing a layered, integrated system capable of destroying a ballistic missile in each of three distinct phases of flight—boost, midcourse, and terminal. The system requires accurate missile identification and tracking with advanced sensors; advanced interceptor missiles or directed energy weapons (e.g., lasers); and reliable Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) to integrate the system and direct the engagement.

With the initial fielding of the BMDS in July 2006, the United States now has a limited defense against ballistic missile attack. This initial capability provides a defense against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles using PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Standard Missile-3 (SM-3). The initial capability also enables engagement of intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase using Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs). These layers are integrated through an advanced C2BMC network.

The Agency’s mission—to develop and field an integrated, layered BMDS to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends against all ranges of missiles in all phases of flight—is more relevant now than ever before. The years ahead will be demanding as MDA continues the tough task of developing, testing, and enhancing our worldwide ballistic missile defenses.

Hot from the Missile Defense Agency is their latest Fact Sheet and BMDS Booklet entitled “Missile Defense—Worldwide”. These publications inform interested parties of the agency’s pursuit of the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) program as a space-based sensor component of the Ballistic Missile Defense System. The STSS program uses sensors capable of detecting visible and infrared light. STSS will become part of a constellation of land, sea, air, and space-based Ballistic Missile Defense System sensors.

During 2008, two research and development satellites will be launched via Delta II launch vehicle into low earth orbit, with a ground segment developed to operate the satellites. This ground segment will also be designed for re-use with subsequent research and development satellites. The STSS ground station will become operational approximately one year prior to the launch date, which will allow for adequate time to train the operators. The ground segment will communicate with the missile defense Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communication system.

The STSS Demonstration Program will demo the key functions of a space-based sensor. Missile tracking data will be passed to missile defense interceptors with the accuracy and timeliness necessary to enable them to successfully intercept missile targets. The lessons learned from the on-orbit operation of the demo satellites will provide a sound foundation to proceed with the fielding of an operational constellation.

In the initial program, the demo satellites are comprised of refurbished hardware that was originally built as flight demo satellites. STSS will perform on-orbit testing of sensor performance against ground targets, airborne targets, as well as short and long-range ballistic missile targets. The demo satellites are expected to be available for between two to four years after their launch.

The Future Development Program of STSS will use the lessons learned from design, development, and early on-orbit testing of the demo satellites and use that data to upgrade the system. Through ground station and spacecraft software upgrades, this effort will improve the Demonstration Satellite experiment, reduce risk for the STSS follow-on program, and improve the contingency operations capability.

The Follow-On Program will find the MDA continuing to plan for the operational constellation of STSS satellites to enable missile tracking. There will be improvements made in satellite lifetime, producibility, and the ability to process and communicate missile-tracking data to interceptors.

Ballistic Missile Defense Space Sensors
The MDA Space Applications Product Center of Excellence is responsible for leading a multi-agency DoD and industry team in developing, testing, and deploying space systems to detect and track ballistic missiles from launch through midcourse flight and eventual intercept or reentry. Mission objectives include developing space technologies that support MDA’s space assets, including sensors, space qualified components, optics, and algorithms.

The Space Applications Center of Excellence will play a lead role in any future space initiatives undertaken by MDA and facilitate the integration of external Overhead Non-Imaging Infrared (ONIR) sensors.

Program Description
Each of the two low earth orbit research and demo satellites use an acquisition sensor for missile launch detection and a movable tracking sensor to follow midcourse objects in space. The STSS demonstration satellites will demonstrate the ability to pass missile-tracking data to system interceptors with the accuracy and timeliness necessary to enable them to successfully intercept missile targets. MDA will be able to make more informed decisions regarding the fielding of satellites for the operational architecture as the data is obtained from these satellites.

The Missile Defense Space Experimentation Center (MDSEC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado is the integration center for MDA’s Space Applications Center of Excellence, which provides a single location for operating STSS and Near-Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) satellites and for conducting space-related Research Development Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) activities in support of the missile defense mission.

The NFIRE satellite, built by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, was launched on April 24, 2007 and will reduce the risk to next-generation BMDS interceptors on land, at sea, and in space by collecting signature data on boosting ballistic missiles at close range in real-world conditions. The data collected will anchor design tools for future interceptor hardware, software, and algorithm development. NFIRE also will provide MDA with early experience coordinating space assets with BMDS flight tests.

The objective of the Space Test Bed is to evaluate the utility and cost-effectiveness of enhancing missile defense by adding a comprehensive space layer to overcome basing and geographical limitations of land, sea, and airborne defenses. The evaluation would include multi-use sensors and C2BMC.

Contributions To The BMDS
MDA Space Sensors will play a significant role in a global missile defense capability by providing continuous tracking of ballistic missiles and passing tracking information to BMDS radars and interceptors. Accurate tracking data provided by space sensors will increase the robustness of the BMDS, allow additional and earlier intercept opportunities, and provide coverage in locations inaccessible to

BMDS radars year 2007 accomplishments:
  • Completed NFIRE satellite integration and ground testing
  • Launched NFIRE satellite and began operating from the MDSEC
  • Continued integration and testing of two Space Trackin and Surveillance System Demonstration satellites
  • Delivered payload #2 to space vehicle integration
  • Completed thermal vacuum testing on both satellites
  • Completed final acceptance of ground software
  • The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program is developing and fielding a capability to defend the United States against intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile attacks in the midcourse phase of flight.

GMD uses a variety of satellites and radars (Cobra Dane Radar, Upgraded Early Warning Radars, Sea-Based X-Band Radar, Forward-Based AN/TPY-2 Radar, and the Aegis AN/SPY-1 Radar) to obtain information on launch warning, tracking, targeting, and discrimination via the Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications system and the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Fire Control and Communications component. This information enables the Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) to locate, identify, and destroy the incoming ballistic missile warhead.

The Contracting Authority is the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) through the U.S. Air Force Space & Missile Systems Center (SMC), El Segundo, California. MDA plans to eventually expand STSS to at least 18 satellites in order to cover key threat regions such as Asia and the Middle East. STSS will achieve worldwide coverage once 30 satellites are deployed.