Space Agency Could Get Missile-Tracking Satellites Earlier than Anticipated


A budget increase accelerates the original timeline, a senior defense official said.

The Space Development Agency is gearing up to release a solicitation in the next two weeks for a tranche of satellites that can track and alert U.S. leaders to traditional and advanced missile systems threatening the nation, a senior defense official confirmed this week.

A $550 million increase for SDA—included in the appropriations bill for fiscal 2022—will enable the agency to purchase and launch 28 missile-tracking and warning satellites to low Earth orbit by early 2025, which marks an acceleration of the original schedule that slated the launch date for 2026.

As the agency’s next round of announced monitoring satellites, the tools will provide global, persistent indications of varying missile system threats—including hypersonic ones. 

“It is a first in the ability to be able to do global coverage for the missile-tracking mission,” the senior defense official told reporters in a background briefing on Tuesday. “So, right now, the department has satellites that provide global missile warning capabilities to essentially detect launches of missiles, but nothing that can actually detect the new advanced missiles [like] hypersonic glide vehicles and such—and so this would be the first to be able to provide that over the globe.”

The official further noted that the satellites are anticipated to reach full operation by the end of 2025. They are one key element of SDA’s planned National Defense Space Architecture, or NDSA, that could eventually envelop hundreds of data-driving orbiting devices. The first tranche of satellites is set to launch in 2023.

Defense Department officials plan to issue other transaction authority agreements to what could be multiple partners to prototype and provide the technology for this next and latest tranche. SDA’s estimated total cost to develop and deliver this tracking layer tranche is roughly $2.5 billion.

During the call, the senior defense official noted that “the whole idea behind” the NDSA and these proliferating constellations is to supply certain military members with rapid capabilities for beyond line of sight targeting directly down to tactical data links. They noted that the envisioned satellites could send information and data directly to NATO allies' communication systems. 

One primary mission for the tracking satellites is also to detect missile launches at sensitivity levels that aren’t achievable today. “So, the whole point of these proliferated architectures is so that in conflicts like we see in Ukraine—and could be anticipated in the future in other parts of the globe—we can fight as a unified force at great speeds that have never been demonstrated before,” the senior defense official explained. “And I will say that, you know, the one thing that the recent events have shown us is that these capabilities are not something that we want to delay in fielding, and so I think that the appropriators saw that as well.”