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  • Sensor Offers Early Missile Warning Alternative
Oct 2006
EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Oct. 16, 2006 -- The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has given Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems (SAS), based in El Segundo, a $54.4 million contract to design the Alternate Infrared Satellite System (AIRSS), a developmental integrated sensor assembly, for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

The AIRSS will be comprised of a sensor with a focal plane array large enough to capture images of the entire earth from a geosynchronous missile warning satellite. The Air Force wants to develop a cheaper, safer alternative to the geosynchronous missile warning satellite that Lockheed Martin is developing for the Air Force's third Space-Based Infrared System (SBIS).

"The [AIRSS] program takes advantage of a single full-earth staring instrument to look for infrared plumes and provide early warning of ballistic missile launches," said Brian Arnold, vice president for Strategic Systems at Raytheon. "The lack of moving parts allows for a lighter, more affordable payload and fewer opportunities for component failure, while the nonmoving, wide-angle infrared optics capture the earth's surface at high fidelity."

The staring approach enabled by the large focal plane array also will allow the warfighter to detect infrared events of brief duration, such as the activity of short-range theater missiles, he said.

A decision to produce either system, expected in 2008, will depend on the developmental success of the geosynchronous satellites and the maturity of the technology demonstrated by the AIRSS, according to the Air Force. Critical design review is expected to be completed next spring and hardware to be delivered a year later.

The AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate awarded a cost-plus-award-fee contract to the Science Applications International Company (SAIC), of San Diego, in September to demonstrate the viability of a full-earth staring sensor assembly to meet Department of Defense missile defense and missile warning objectives. The performance data from this sensor will enable the Air Force to assess the risk of this approach for a future AIRSS developmental system. SAIC is expected to deliver the sensor assembly in March to undergo space qualification testing.

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