Exploring the Potential of MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) Satellites for Global Missile Warning and Tracking

Exploring the Potential of MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) Satellites for Global Missile Warning and Tracking

In a significant step forward in the realm of missile warning and tracking, the primary acquisition command of the Space Force has set its sights on awarding contracts by late 2024 or early 2025. These contracts will play a pivotal role in launching a fleet of 18 "Epoch 2" satellites, strategically placed in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). The objective is to establish a constellation capable of offering global coverage. This ambitious project, led by a senior official from the Space Systems Command (SSC), forms part of the development of the Resilient Missile Warning/Missile Tracking – MEO (MEO MW/MT) constellation.

In a fast-paced world of technological advancements, Col. Heather Bogstie, the senior materiel leader at SSC's Resilient Missile Warning, Tracking, and Defense (MWTD) acquisition delta, emphasized the urgency of these developments. Waiting for a decade for the perfect technology to be delivered to orbit is simply not an option. She made this clear during a recent address at the MilSat Symposium in Mountain View, California.

This initiative was launched by the SSC last year as part of a comprehensive overhaul in its approach to missile warning and tracking. This transformation involves moving away from previous programs that focused on a limited number of satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit, instead opting to establish a network of hundreds of satellites in various orbits. MEO, located between the upper edge of low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit, is a crucial arena for this development.

The MEO satellite program is divided into different "Epochs," with the first, known as Epoch 1, marking the transition from SSC's 2021 study to an official program of record. In January, contracts were awarded to Raytheon Intelligence & Space and Boeing's Millennium Space Systems for the construction of MEO MW/MT Epoch 1 prototypes. In June, L3Harris Technologies received a $29 million contract for the design of sensor payloads, positioning the company as the third vendor in this groundbreaking project.

Epoch 1 is anticipated to launch at the end of 2026, deploying nine satellites across two orbital planes, each equipped with advanced sensors for missile warning and tracking. This will enhance capabilities in multiple regions across the globe. The subsequent phase, Epoch 2, aims to deliver four additional planes of satellites, ultimately establishing a total of six planes and approximately 27 satellites. This configuration will serve as the baseline set of operational capabilities and provide comprehensive global coverage.

SSC's roadmap for Epoch 2 includes a draft request for proposals (RFP) to be issued later in the fall, with a final RFP expected in the summer of 2024. The goal is to make at least one competitive award in late 2024 or early 2025. This phase will focus on the maturation of MW/MT sensors, optical crosslinks, data fusion, constellation mission management, and robust ground communication.

Looking ahead to Epoch 3, projected for the early 2030s, a new generation of satellites will replace the initial Epoch 1 satellites. This evolution will introduce two new planes of satellites equipped with cutting-edge technology designed for persistent simultaneous tracking and warning.

Underpinning these developments, SSC has allocated investments to five key technology programs crucial for the success of the MEO MW/MT effort:

1. Focal plane arrays, covering manufacturing, coatings, and large format.
2. Constellation mission management.
3. Data correlation & fusion.
4. Optical crosslinks.
5. On-board processing.

Exploring the Potential of MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) Satellites for Global Missile Warning and Tracking

A primary focus of the MEO network is the provision of low latency, ensuring the ability to process and transmit vast volumes of data with minimal delay. Low latency is crucial for enabling rapid response times and accurate target data. Throughout a satellite's flight, data is fused with other missile warning and tracking information, which is then provided to operators responsible for making sense of this critical data. This accurate data is pivotal in characterizing missile types, origins, and intended targets, ultimately guiding the engagement of defensive systems to neutralize threats.

Additionally, SSC is committed to the early development of a fully functional and robust ground system. The objective is to have it in place one year before the launch of the first set of Epoch satellites. SSC is actively deploying ground relay stations globally and collaborating with mission partners to ensure the seamless integration and fusion of new data.

Traditionally, the Defense Department's space programs have faced challenges in synchronizing ground station and receiver availability with satellite deployments. However, SSC, under the leadership of space acquisition czar Frank Calvelli, is determined to address and rectify these issues.

In conclusion, the development of MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) Satellites represents a transformative initiative in the field of missile warning and tracking, offering the promise of global coverage, enhanced capabilities, and swift response times. The commitment to technological advancement and low-latency data transmission underscores a forward-thinking approach aimed at bolstering national defense and security.
As we eagerly await the deployment of Epoch 1 and the subsequent phases, it's evident that the future of missile warning and tracking is on the verge of a groundbreaking revolution, with MEO satellites at the forefront. These advancements will undoubtedly contribute to a safer and more secure global landscape.

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