US Arms Race for New ‘Star Wars’

The US is creating a satellite network for the detection and tracking of hypersonic weapons. In mid-July 2022, the SDA (Space Development Agency), the U.S. Space Programs Agency, announced the signing of contracts totaling $1.317 billion under two sub-programs, with the object of building, launching and placing in low Earth orbit 28 in total satellites. Their purpose will be to locate and track ballistic missile systems and, above all, hypersonic weapons.

The launches of the first satellites are scheduled to begin within three years, setting up the NDSA (National Defense Space Architecture) surveillance network in a short period of time. But the hypersonic weapons detection and tracking network won’t just be these 28 satellites.

Because in addition to them (Tracking Layer), there will be a second, also satellite network, which will be exclusively dedicated to the distribution of information and data to a multitude of platforms of the US armed forces on land, air and sea. The separate satellite communications/information distribution network otherwise called the Transport Layer, will of course have a planetary reach.

It will be even bigger since it will consist of 300 to 500 satellites, which will also move in low earth orbit (LEO – Low Earth Orbit) and at heights ranging from 750 to 1200 kilometers from the earth’s surface. Based on the US plans, with the Transport Layer in full operation, 95% of the earth’s surface will be permanently covered by at least two satellites and 99% by one, all year round, 365 days a year.

Contracts for the initial phase (Tranche 1) of the creation of the Tracking Layer that will be used to provide indications, warnings, tracking and targeting of missile threats, were signed with L3Harris technologies Inc. and Northrop Grumman Strategic Space Systems. The amount allocated for the first was 700 million dollars and for the second 617 million dollars.

Each of the two manufacturers has undertaken the construction of 14 satellites that will be equipped with continuous wide field of view (WFOV – Wide Field of View/OPIR – Overhead Persistent Infra Red) sensors. The height of the orbit of the 28 satellites will be about 1000 kilometers from the earth’s surface. They will be put into orbit by four launches of rockets – carriers each carrying seven satellites, starting in April 2025.

The NDSA surveillance network will be controlled from a specially equipped center at the US Air Force’s Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. Today, launch detection and tracking of ballistic missiles is done through the Space Based Infra Red Systems (SBIRS) network of larger, but significantly fewer satellites.

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