Two candidate payloads for the U.S. Space Force’s Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites have passed their preliminary design review, with critical design review expected in fall 2021.

Next Gen OPIR is to replace the Space-Based Infrared System, a constellation of satellites hosting infrared sensors used to detect and track ballistic missile threats. The Space Force says the new system will be more survivable than its predecessor.

The Space and Missile Systems Center plans to place five satellites in the initial constellation: three geosynchronous, or NGG, satellites built by Lockheed Martin; and two polar satellites being built by Northrop Grumman. The two infrared payloads that passed preliminary design review are for the first two NGG satellites.

“NGG is a critical piece of our missile warning architecture that will deliver a capable, resilient, and defensible missile warning system to counter determined adversaries,” said Col. Dennis Bythewood, program executive officer for space development. “This milestone demonstrates our ability to move with deliberate speed, while maintaining the technical and programmatic rigor needed to ensure success.”

The Space and Missile Systems Center is developing the two NGG payloads competitively, with Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems behind one effort and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems working with Ball Aerospace on the other. Each will design, manufacture, assemble, integrate and deliver one payload to fly on the first two NGG satellites designed and integrated by Lockheed Martin. The efforts are taking place in parallel to mitigate schedule risks as the Space Force works to launch the first NGG satellite in 2025.

“Detecting missile launches early starts in space. Each layer, or orbit, provides a necessary and unique view of the Earth to initially detect and then track a missile. Passing the Preliminary Design Review shows that our approach meets mission requirements, putting this ‘Go Fast’ program one step closer to launch. What sets us apart is our deep technology bench. Being able to pull or modify critical technology, like focal planes and electronics, from our other programs allows us to rapidly develop new designs for any orbit," said Wallis Laughrey, vice president of space systems for Raytheon Intelligence and Space in a statement.

Lockheed will work with the Space and Missile Systems Center to decide which payload goes on which space vehicle, and then competitively select one of the developers to build an additional payload for the third NGG.

“The two successful reviews were key milestones in demonstrating our readiness to move forward. Our next steps are the build and test of engineering design units, or EDUs, and procurement of critical flight hardware for the first Space Vehicle delivery in 2025,” said Col. Daniel Walter, the Next Generation OPIR space segment program manager. “The mission payload EDUs will be critical enablers to demonstrate mission capabilities and exercise key integration activities that will burn down program risk before the space flight hardware is delivered.”

Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.

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