SBIRS Ground Control, Satellite Ready to Go

Air Force Space Command announced operational acceptance of the Space-Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS) Block 10 ground control system Tuesday. The new control system replaces three legacy systems, the Defense Support Program, SBIRS Highly Elliptical Orbit, and SBIRS Geosynchronous Earth Orbit, and consolidates their functions into one location operated by the by the 460th Space Wing at Buckley AFB, Colo. A back-up system is located at Schriever AFB, Colo. SBIRS ground control also improves on the performance of its predecessor systems by deploying advanced sensors, increasing the speed of information relay to the ground, and offering improved data cueing for missile defense. The system has been online since April and its primary uses are “missile warning, missile defense, battlespace awareness, and technical intelligence,” according to a press release from contractor Lockheed Martin. SBIRS has also been likened to GPS in its production of broadly useful raw data that is expected to have “civil and emerging applications.” SBIRS sensors have already been used to pinpoint the location of a wildfire and communicate that information to firefighters on the ground.

SBIRS ground control currently receives data from two GEO satellites. A third satellite was scheduled for launch on Oct. 3 but was delayed due to potential hardware failure. A contractor found that the liquid apogee engine used in the GEO-3 satellite had failed in another satellite that is not part of the SBIRS system. Space and Missile Systems postponed the launch and began an investigation into the operational integrity of the satellite. The satellite was put through eight weeks of “hot fire” testing, analysis of historical data, and new test procedures. On Monday, SMC announced the results of its investigation, finding “the SBIRS engine has no hardware defect and is flightworthy.” SMC commander Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves cleared GEO-3 for fueling sometime between Dec. 6-11, and the satellite is scheduled for a Jan. 19 launch from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla.