The sixth and last satellite from the geostationary series went into orbit at an altitude of more than 35 thousand kilometers and began to work.
The creation of a network of early warning about a missile attack SBIRS in the United States took up in the mid-90s. After the Gulf War, the US Department of Defense concluded that the defense support program (DSP) launch warning system that had existed since the 1970s was not up to date with new threats, was too slow to respond, and it was time to start a new one.
The DSP system consisted of five satellites deployed in geostationary orbits. They made it possible to register missile launches in 40-50 seconds, as well as to determine the trajectory of their flight on the active site. SBIRS reduces the time parameter to 20 seconds. In addition, it allows you to identify, allegedly, not only warheads, but also false targets, even in the middle section of the trajectory.
The network consists of several layers: six geostationary satellites, four tracking devices in highly elliptical orbits and ground stations. They were supposed to be joined by 24 satellites in low Earth orbit, but did not happen. In 2009, low-orbit stations were abandoned, replacing them with several more advanced STSS (Space Tracking and Surveillance System) tracking and video surveillance satellites, and then on an experimental basis.
The ground segment of the SBIRS complex includes two control centers: the main one at Buckley Air Force Base near the city of Aurora (Colorado) and the backup one at Schriver Air Base near the city of Colorado Springs, in the same state, as well as stations for receiving data from satellites.
All work was planned to be completed in 2010, but only today the last GEO-6 satellite was put into orbit. The first SBIRS satellite, named GEO-1, arrived in orbit in 2011, 15 years after the start of the program and nine years behind the original launch date.
The program was accompanied by constant problems with the development - satellites are not standard. They have been constantly modified and improved. The graphs, respectively, flew to hell, but most importantly, the program was turned into a big "feeding trough". From 1996 to 2020, the total cost estimate rose from a planned $5.6 billion to $20.3 billion, according to the Office of Government Accountability. The cost overrun amounted to 260% - a record for the entire US military-industrial industry.
And so, with the “new growing threat of hypersonic and cruise missiles,” as stated in the Congressional spending documents for 2019 fiscal year, it was decided to create an entirely new satellite constellation. Formally, all officials, especially from the US Space Force, assure respected taxpayers that SBIRS will work until the last signal. According to them, the presence of this system will even improve the country's defense capability and will make it possible to more accurately determine missile launches. But between the lines it appears that SBIRS has been sentenced.
Now the US military is excited about a new program, the Next Generation Continuous Infrared Tracking Satellites, NGOPIR for short. The development was scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, but so far the public has only been informed in general terms about the concept. The new network will have an expanded architecture in which large geostationary satellites are only a small element. Reliance is now expected on small spacecraft with advanced sensors that will fly in huge numbers and at various altitudes and orbits.
It looks like it will cost a lot. The US Space Force, in its budget proposal for the current fiscal year, has requested $4.6 billion. And this is not for the assembly and launch of new satellites, but for not getting too out of the development and testing schedules.
The main contractor is called Northrop Grumman. But Boeing also reports on its products in promotional articles. And Raytheon Corporation, in anticipation of opening up financial opportunities, bought Blue Canyon Technologies, a company specializing in building satellites weighing 10 to 100 kilograms, built a new plant in Colorado and expanded production capacity at enterprises in Boulder and Lafayette. The work carried out will allow it to increase the production of spacecraft from 50 to 85 pieces per year. The company is confident that the costs will pay off.