The Pentagon’s grand space strategy envisions a shift from larger, expensive satellites to massive constellations of smaller, easier to replace ones.
The U.S. military has hired L3Harris and SpaceX to build small satellites with powerful infrared sensors capable of spotting and tracking ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons. These satellites could become part of a large and broader early warning constellation with hundreds of space-based sensors and communications nodes watching for incoming threats, monitoring their flight, and potentially providing targeting data to missile defense assets.
The Pentagon announced that the Space Development Agency (SDA) had awarded the contracts to L3Harris and SpaceX, worth around $193.5 million and just over $149 million, respectively, on Oct. 5, 2020. Each company will be responsible for building four satellites, each with a wide field of view (WFOV) overhead persistent infrared (OPIR) sensor, in support of work on what SDA calls Tranche 0 of the Tracking Layer of the planned overarching early warning constellation.