Northrop Grumman Corporation has refined the design of Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Polar (NGP) satellites by leveraging digital technology called Highly Immersive Virtual Environment (HIVE). The satellites are being built by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC).
Northrop Grumman’s HIVE technology allows engineers to design, build, maintain and service satellites in virtual reality before any hardware is manufactured or procured. Real-time modeling, simulation, visualization and human interaction reduce technical costs and risks early in the development phases.
«With digital engineering, we can move through the design, testing and manufacturing phases quickly and with agility, saving money and significantly reducing development timelines for large systems», said Carol Erikson, vice president, systems engineering and digital transformation, Northrop Grumman.
As part of the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared System (Next-Gen OPIR), two NGP satellites will provide precise, timely sensor coverage over the northern hemisphere to help deter and defend against ballistic and hypersonic missiles. NGP combines Northrop Grumman’s proven experience in missile warning and defense with a commitment to delivering NGP at an accelerated pace.
During a recent HIVE demonstration, conducted at the company’s facility in Redondo Beach, California, Northrop Grumman engineers donned virtual-reality goggles and motion-capture suits to simulate the integration and assembly of the satellites’ key components. Engineers validated the NGP design and will continue to use digital technology in the next stages of the satellites’ development.
In March 2022, Northrop Grumman announced its partnership with Ball Aerospace to design and develop the two NGP satellite infrared payloads in the first phase of a $1.89 billion SSC contract.
Lockheed Martin has selected Raytheon Technologies Corporation to provide a second mission payload for the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Block 0 missile warning satellite system – also known as NGG. Both Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman Corporation are each already on contract to provide one mission payload for the three-satellite procurement.
Lockheed Martin is currently under contract with the United States Space Force (U.S.S.F.) Space Systems Command (SSC) to build three survivable NGG satellites with enhanced missile warning and resiliency capabilities to stay ahead of the emerging threats. As part of risk-reduction efforts to meet the U.S.S.F.’s imperative to launch the first satellite by 2025, Lockheed Martin selected Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman/Ball Aerospace to develop mission payload designs. The payload designs from both competitors have completed the critical design phase and are on track to fly on the first two NGG satellites. It has yet to be determined which payload will be aboard the first NGG satellite launched in 2025.
«For this ‘Go-Fast’ program, both teams had to meet stringent schedule and performance requirements – which they’ve done. I want to congratulate and thank both teams for their tireless work and we look forward to the first flights of both the mission payloads», said Joseph Rickers, Lockheed Martin’s NGG program vice president. «These advanced OPIR payloads will support the critical mission by leveraging technologies with new capabilities on an aggressive schedule».
For this rapid acquisition program, both competitive payload teams were selected and placed under contract just 45 days after the prime contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin in 2018. Aiming to have their advanced payloads eventually integrated into Lockheed Martin’s resilient LM2100 Combat Bus space vehicle, the teams quickly completed preliminary design reviews in 2020 and critical design reviews in 2021. Both teams successfully completed environmental testing of their payload engineering development units.
Northrop Grumman Corporation recently completed the critical design review of the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) prototype for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The review establishes the company’s technical approach for precise, timely sensor coverage to defeat ballistic and hypersonic missiles.
HBTSS satellites will provide continuous tracking and handoff to enable targeting of enemy missiles launched from land, sea or air. They are a critical part of the Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) multi-layered constellation of satellites, which can sense heat signatures to detect and track missiles from their earliest stages of launch through interception.
«When it comes to national safety, there’s no room for error», said Sarah Willoughby, vice president, OPIR and geospatial systems, Northrop Grumman. «This critical design review puts Northrop Grumman on track to deliver a vital component of our missile defense architecture to keep the U.S. and its allies safe against hypersonic threats».
HBTSS satellites are also designed to track threats with near global reach when prompted by other OPIR systems, well before they come into view of U.S. ground-based defenses.
Northrop Grumman received a $153 million contract from the MDA earlier this year for the Phase IIB portion of the HBTSS program and is on schedule to deliver the HBTSS prototype in 2023. After the HBTSS prototype is delivered, the company will conduct an on-orbit test to demonstrate its ability to continuously track and rapidly process its observations of hypersonic threats, as well as its ability to effectively hand off the information so the missile is intercepted.
Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.
The world’s most advanced missile defense satellite recently and successfully came out of almost two months of harsh simulated space environmental testing.
On June 9, the U.S. Space Force’s fifth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite (SBIRS GEO-5) successfully completed Thermal Vacuum (TVAC) testing at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, California satellite manufacturing facility.
Completing TVAC was a significant milestone for the first military space satellite to be built on one of Lockheed Martin’s modernized LM 2100 satellite buses. During TVAC testing, the satellite – with its sophisticated electronics performing full operations – faced waves of heat and cold in a depressurized atmosphere similar to the drastic environmental changes experienced in space.
«The completion of TVAC can be attributed to a tremendous effort from the Air Force, Lockheed Martin, Aerospace Corporation, and supporting contractor teams», said Tucker White, SBIRS GEO-5 Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations Lead from the Government Program Office. «The teams worked around the clock and finished on schedule to their original projection. This test phase is vital to any space vehicle test regime and takes GEO-5 one step closer to providing enhanced missile detection to our warfighters».
SBIRS GEO-5 will join the Space Force’s constellation of missile warning satellites equipped, with powerful scanning and staring infrared surveillance sensors, which protect our nation 24-7. These sensors collect data that allow the U.S. military to detect missile launches, support ballistic missile defense, expand technical intelligence gathering and bolster situational awareness on the battlefield.
«In SBIRS GEO-5, and our next satellite GEO-6, we’re introducing game-changing enhancements to address the needs of our nation’s space warfighting force going forward», said Tom McCormick, Vice President for Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Missions at Lockheed Martin Space. «The threat posed by ballistic missile technology continues to spread exponentially around the world. In 2019, SBIRS detected nearly a thousand missile launches globally, which is about a two-fold increase in two years».
No «Ordinary» Missile Defense Satellite
SBIRS GEO-5 is the first of two new SBIRS missile defense satellites and the fourth satellite built on Lockheed Martin’s new, modernized LM 2100 satellite bus. A major investment by Lockheed Martin, the LM 2100 purposefully focuses on increasing production speed, reducing costs, adding resiliency and building in more mission flexibility. The LM 2100:
Drives efficiency and cost savings into satellite design and production by leveraging common components, processes and production practices across the entire satellite production line.
Features 26 improvements that add more power and flexibility to the company’s proven A2100 satellite platform.
Increases satellite resiliency, eliminates older components and utilizes modern electronics to add new capability and increase reliability.
Offers a configurable payload module that provides more flexibility for military missions, accommodating mass, power, propellant and volume.
Allows easy implementation of additional modernized sensor suites and mission payloads thru its modular design.
«As we build more military LM 2100 satellites, we gain schedule efficiencies both from suppliers and the ability to enable concurrent bus and payload testing, which shortens the single line manufacturing flow», McCormick explained.
LM 2100 is currently slated to be the baseline bus of SBIRS GEO-5, and SBIRS GEO-6, expected to be launched in 2021 and 2022 respectively; three next Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared System (Next Gen OPIR) Block 0 GEO satellites expecting to launch starting in 2025; and the future GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) satellites, which are expected to launch starting in 2026.
Upgraded SBIRS Ground
The sophisticated SBIRS ground control system has had significant upgrades. SBIRS receives and processes large amounts of data from the global coverage of the satellites’ powerful sensors and converts this data into actionable reports for defense, intelligence and civil applications.
In August 2019, the U.S. Air Force operationally accepted Lockheed Martin’s Block 20 upgrade to the SBIRS ground control system, which improves its overall performance allowing better mission planning and processing for the full constellation, as well as enhanced cyber security defenses.
The upgrade also formally completed SBIRS’ Engineering & Manufacturing Development (EMD) Phase. This let the Air Force transition their focus to SBIRS’ operations and sustainment, as well as further enhanced capabilities that will be offered by the Next Gen OPIR system, and the Future Operational Resilient Ground Evolution (FORGE) ground system.
The SBIRS development team is led by the Production Corps, Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Division, at the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California. Lockheed Martin Space, Sunnyvale, California, is the SBIRS prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Azusa, California, as the payload integrator.