Missile Detection Satellites
Only two countries are known to operate global missile detection and warning satellites—Russia and the United States. During 2016, only one country, the United States, has been able to conduct global monitoring with missile detection and warning satellites 24 hours a day. Russia appears to…
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), headquartered in the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, conducts acquisition and testing of systems to defend the United States against incoming missiles. This mission was formally enshrined in the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) announced in 1983.
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Since 1970, the United States has relied on space-based infrared sensors for detecting energy emitted from ballistic missile launches from other countries around the world. During 2016, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) continued to operate the primary means of detecting launches of missiles and space launch vehicles, using infrared satellites and sensors orbiting the Earth.
U.S missile defense has its roots in the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), announced in 1983 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. SDI was initially intended to defend the United States against the launch of thousands of nuclear-tipped Soviet missiles. SDI would have used a combination of advanced space and ground systems to shoot the missiles out of the sky.
Near the beginning of 2015, Russia’s Oko early warning missile detection satellite system was non-functional. The country remained without space-based missile detection capability until late 2015, when Russia’s military launched the first satellite of its next-generation early warning satellite constellation, called Tundra.
The USAF continued missile detection operations in 2015 using a combination of legacy Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites, two Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO satellites, and three SBIRS HEO sensor payloads hosted on classified satellites. The growth and evolution of the infrared satellites deployed in various orbits allows the USAF uninterrupted monitoring in the infrared spectrum of activities around the world, 24 hours a day.
Missile detection and warning satellites, a type of system first launched into orbit more than forty years ago, are used to monitor potential threats on a global scale. They provide a very high vantage point, using complex systems and technologies to provide notification of possible hostile activities, such as missile launches occurring in areas of interest.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA’s) two Space Tracking and Surveillance System-Demonstrator (STSS-D) satellites remained fairly quiet in 2014. Launched in September 2009, the satellites continue to circle the Earth at an altitude of 1,350 kilometers (840 miles). The satellites can track a missile in “stereo” (when both satellites’ infrared payloads track and provide data on the same object) from the time of a missile’s launch until it re-enters the atmosphere.
As of early 2015, Russia was not able to detect missile launches by means of its Oko missile warning satellite system. The last two of the system’s HEO satellites ceased operations in January 2015, and the last of Oko’s GEO satellites experienced a power problem in mid-2014, taking it offline. Oko is supposed to be composed of six satellites, some in GEO and others in HEO.