• Sun. Mar 7th, 2021

L3Harris to develop a satellite prototype capable of detecting hypersonic weapons


Jan 19, 2021

L3Harris Technologies was awarded a $121 million contract by Missile Defense Agency to manufacture a prototype satellite which can detect hypersonic weapons, the authority revealed on January 14. Under the deal, L3Harris is charged with designing an on-orbit test demo for the Hypersonic, and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor of the agency, which is a proliferated low Earth orbit constellation able to detect and monitor hypersonic weapons.

The constellation is planned to fill the void created by hypersonic weapons in the nation’s missile defense infrastructure, that are dimmer than conventional ballistic missiles, rendering them more difficult to see with geosynchronous orbit-based infrared sensors of the country. Furthermore, they can navigate around terrestrial sensors. With the production of these arms by Russia and China, the Department of Defense is willing to create a new constellation to identify and monitor risks worldwide. And so is the Congress, when lawmakers allocated $130 million in December to finance the initiative.

By positioning the sensor far closer to the surface of the Earth in the lower orbit, the HBTSS architecture solves the hypersonic missile challenge, making it much easier to identify the danger. But since the sensors are much closer to Earth, their field of view is much more constrained than that of sensors in the geosynchronous orbit. The Missile Defense Agency needs a proliferating constellation of hundreds of satellites in space to ensure global coverage.

L3Harris, together with Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies and Leidos, are among four firms which were awarded $20 million contracts in the year 2019 to build a concept payload design and risk avoidance demo for HBTSS. Operations on those models were scheduled on October 31, 2020, as per the original contract statements. The following contest between the four firms to build the final prototype was won by L3Harris with this new prize. The company was also chosen to construct the Space Development Agency satellites to monitor hypersonic threats as well as feed HBTSS data.

L3Harris received a $193 million deal in October to develop four of the agency’s 8 wide fields of view (WFOV) satellites. An additional four are being designed by SpaceX. As per Space Development Agency officials, their satellites will coordinate with the HBTSS satellites to detect hypersonic threats. Initial identification, as well as tracking of the missiles, will be provided by the WFOV satellites, shifting custody from the satellite to the satellite as threats across the globe. The WFOV satellites would then shift ownership to HBTSS medium field of view satellites that will offer their more precise sensors with aiming solutions. The launch of the WFOV satellites is expected as soon as September 2022. The project will be finished in July 2023 on HBTSS prototype contract.