Defense

Space Force launches billion-dollar satellite to detect missile launches

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Space Force on Tuesday successfully launched a billion-dollar rocket that the division hopes to use as part of an enhanced defense system to detect missile launches. 

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Space Force’s Cape Canaveral, Fla., station following a 24-hour delay due to technical issues. 

ULA announced in a press release that the 197-foot-tall rocket weighing about 950,000 pounds lifted off from the launchpad shortly after 1:30 p.m. ET, and will put Space Force’s fifth Space-Based Infrared System satellite, or SBIRS GEO-5, into orbit.

Footage shared on Twitter showed onlookers from a nearby beach watching as the rocket lifted off and raced into the sky with smoke shooting down from the bottom of the spacecraft. 

Once in orbit, the new satellite, along with the four others, will use its infrared technology and telescopes to serve as an early missile detection system. 

ULA said, “SBIRS provides continuous surveillance to detect missile launches and provide early warning for the United States and our allies in an effort to save lives.” 

Tom McCormick, vice president of satellite-builder Lockheed Martin’s Overhead Persistent Infrared Missions division, told CBS news that the “need for SBIRS systems has never been more critical.” 

“For early missile warning, SBIRS infrared detection capabilities serve as a tip of the spear, or bell ringer, that a launch has occurred and something is coming,” McCormick explained. “SBIRS data informs many of our country’s other defensive systems, which together form a protective missile kill chain to defend our nation and our armed forces.”

Col. Dennis Bythewood, former director of the remote sensing systems at Los Angeles Air Force Base, told reporters before the 2018 launch of the SBIRS GEO-4 satellite that when missiles fly, they create a “heat signature,” adding, “Certainly our adversaries are moving to make that heat signature smaller and smaller, and we are moving to maintain a capability to detect those as we move forward.” 

Tags Cape Canaveral Florida missile alert Rocket launch Space Force Spacecraft U.S. Military United States Space Force

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