To aid the U.S. military in improving its ability to identify swiftly moving threats, a missile warning satellite and another spacecraft are currently being launched into orbit.
On July 1, two U.S. military surveillance satellites launched aboard an Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 7:15 p.m. EDT (23:15 GMT) as part of the USSF-12 mission for the U.S. Space Force.
Four and a half minutes after launch, the Atlas V’s first and second stages separated. The upper-stage Centaur’s engine then burned for more than six minutes. The two satellites were prepared for deployment into geosynchronous orbit, which is located 22,300 miles (35,900 km) above Earth, after two additional Centaur fires. About six hours after liftoff, that transpired as expected, ULA personnel reported through Twitter early on Saturday.
A new generation of missile-surveillance technology is being tested by the Space Force Space System Command (SSC) aboard one of the two spacecraft, known as the Wide Field of View (WFOV) satellite. The second is a satellite bus that is hosting various technological displays for the US Department of Defense (DoD). It is referred to as the USSF-12 Ring.
For reasons of national security, both WFOV and the USSF-12 Ring are regarded as classified payloads; hence, nothing is known about either of them. However, during a Tuesday call with media, representatives of government agencies and contractors were able to share some details (June 28).
Northrop Grumman built the USSF-12 Ring utilising the aerospace company’s ESPAStar product line. According to Matt Verock, vice president of space security for Northrop Grumman, on the call, this ring is being flown for the DoD and has six distinct payload ports in addition to an independent propulsion system.
The USSF-12 Ring and its payloads “will deploy key pathfinders for future capabilities and deliver innovative technologies to help us advance … future missions,” according to Lt. Col. Jon Shea, director of the DoD’s space test programme, who has not provided any additional information about any of those payloads.
The imaging sensor for WFOV is over 6 feet tall (about 2 meters). The sensor was created by L3Harris Technologies, a business that also provided optical parts for NASA’s Hubble and James Webb space telescopes as well as the currently under construct Nancy Grace Roman satellite telescope. WFOV will assist SSC in calibrating the precision of the sensor, which was created for a novel sort of weapons detection system—the tracking of hypersonic weapons.
In 2018, the new hypersonic Kinzhal missile underwent a successful test, according to Russian state media, which also released an animated depiction of the missile being launched at the United States. According to reports, the Kinzhal missile can reach targets anywhere in the world and can move five times faster than sound.
Ballistic missiles, which have limited agility, are the main target of current space-deployed weapon tracking systems. The Overhead Persistent Infrared programme (OPIR), developed by the DoD, allows for the tracking of next-generation hypersonic threats like the Kinzhal. The testing ground for those technologies is WFOV.
“The threat is imminent right now,” Col. Heather Bogstie, senior materiel leader for the SSC’s Resilient Missile Warning, Tracking and Defense Acquisition Delta, said during Tuesday’s call. “[WFOV] is really going to be an important pathfinder for our future MEO [middle Earth orbit] missile track systems.”
The WFOV mission, which will provide “24/7 coverage across 3,000+ kilometers [1,860 miles] over the Pacific Theater,” was defined by her as a “digital engineering demo.”
The WFOV satellite and USSF-12 Ring are built with a three-year mission operational life in mind. According to an SSC announcement, the successors of WFOV, the OPIR programme satellites, are on schedule to start launching as early as 2025, with a total of five satellites planned to launch between then and 2028.