A key missile warning satellite’s sensor payload is a year behind schedule, according to the Space Force’s top acquisition official.

Receiving that payload, built by RTX, and integrating it onto the first Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellite is a top acquisition priority for the service, Frank Calvelli said during a Feb. 27 speech at the National Security Space Association’s Defense and Intelligence Space Conference.

He told C4ISRNET on the sidelines of the conference he’s concerned further delays could push the planned launch date past its 2025 target.

“Given that the payload is a year late, yeah, I’m worried,” Calvelli said.

Next-Gen OPIR is the successor to today’s Space-Based Infrared System, which detects and tracks ballistic missiles. It includes two satellites built by Lockheed Martin that will reside in geostationary orbit, about 22,000 miles above Earth, and two Northrop Grumman-built polar satellites destined for a highly elliptical orbit.

Lockheed in 2022 selected RTX, formerly Raytheon, and a Northrop Grumman-Ball Aerospace team to to develop the primary payloads for the geosynchronous satellites. The mission payloads feature advanced sensors the Space Force will use to detect missile launches around the world.

The Government Accountability Office has issued repeated warnings of potential delays to the program, most recently in a June 2023 report. Program officials told GAO at the time mission payload delivery was the main driver of program risk.

“Our review of this program indicates that delivery of both payloads and the first launch are likely to be delayed,” GAO said. “According to program officials, each payload developer is working to overcome supply chain issues that could delay payload deliveries. Additionally, the complex integration of a novel payload and a modified spacecraft continue to present significant risk to the launch schedule.”

Calvelli said in his speech the payload needs to be delivered to Lockheed this spring to maintain the launch schedule, at which point the company will integrate it onto the satellite. He told C4ISRNET that while he’s concerned about the delay postponing launch, the program team is working to prevent that.

One way to do that, he said, is by changing the sequence by which Lockheed integrates other payloads and subsystems onto the satellite.

“Lockheed, quite honestly, is the best of the best at shuffling around their [integration and test] schedule,” Calvelli said. “Right now, they’re absorbing most of the impact by putting other stuff on first.”

A spokesperson for RTX deferred comment to Lockheed as the program’s prime contractor.

Michael Corriea, Lockheed’s vice president of warning programs, told C4ISRNET in a statement the company expects the re-sequencing to save time while it awaits the payload.

“Lockheed Martin is committed to delivering the first Next Gen GEO satellite to meet the Space Force’s planned 2025 launch date,” Corriea said. “To ensure that, we have been working closely with our payload provider, including having staff at their site, to help with payload integration.”

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

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