WASHINGTON — The Space Development Agency has approved design plans for its new missile warning satellites, which will be capable of detecting and tracking hypersonic weapons.

L3Harris Technologies announced Sept. 20 that the agency had completed preliminary design review of their satellites, marking an important milestone as the company prepares for production of the spacecraft. L3Harris will continue development of the missile warning satellites as it works toward critical design review.

“We’ve worked closely with SDA to ensure our design taps proven technology that can scale to address the changing mission,” said L3Harris Space and Airborne Systems President Ed Zoiss in a statement. “We understand the threat and are focused on delivery.”

L3Harris was one of just two companies awarded contracts for the agency’s first eight missile warning satellites. SDA awarded $193 million to L3Harris and $149 million to SpaceX in October 2020 to design and develop four satellites each. While competitors Raytheon Technologies and Airbus U.S. Space and Defense each filed protests with the Government Accountability Office, ultimately the contracts were upheld.

The spacecraft will be equipped with wide field of view overhead persistent infrared sensors designed to detect hypersonic weapons, which pose a challenge to the United States’ current missile warning architecture.

Those eight satellites will comprise the inaugural tracking layer of the SDA’s National Defense Space Architecture, a proliferated constellation made up of hundreds of satellites mostly operating in low Earth orbit. L3Harris is also developing a prototype for the Missile Defense Agency’s Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, or HBTSS, after receiving a $121 million contract in January. Under the proposed architecture, the L3Harris and SpaceX tracking layer satellites will detect and track hypersonic threats all over the world before passing them off to the more sensitive HBTSS built by L3Harris, which will provide targeting data.

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

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