USAF Prepares For First Sbirs GEO Launch

Aviation Weekly
By Amy Butler
April 13, 2011

After nearly 15 years of development work, more than eight years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns, the first of the U.S. Defense Department’s new early missile warning satellites is finally poised for launch.

The Space-Based Infrared System (Sbirs) geosynchronous (GEO) satellites will provide a new generation of IR sensors designed to detect ballistic missile launches—including “dim,” short-range boosts—faster than today’s Defense Support Program (DSP) constellation.

A launch success will be a step to help move forward from more than a decade of dismal performance in space programs by the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin.

A Sbirs failure would be a stunning turn for the worse for military space programs, which have struggled through quality-control problems, management mishaps and multibillion-dollar overruns. In short, the Air Force’s credibility in delivering precious spaceborne capabilities for the nation is on the line.

Less than a month remains for an 11th-hour snag to arise for Sbirs GEO-1, which is poised to lift off from Cape Canaveral. The flight date is set for May 5 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V, but Col. Roger Teague, the U.S. Air Force’s Sbirs program manager, says May 4 is an option depending on when the space shuttle Endeavour returns from its latest mission.

The satellite must also undergo the launch, outgas, shed its protective sensor cover, and point and focus its highly sophisticated infrared payload before military commanders will be at ease.

Read on:

Two SBIRS radomes were constructed at the American base in 1998 – and there they sit – not operational!