The U.S. Space Development Agency has officially announced a pair of contract awards this past Monday to try and build 28 warfighting satellites that will be able to watch for and track hypersonic missiles in an effort to get ahead in the race to dominate space that is being fought between the planets superpowers.
Both Northrop Grumman Strategic Space Systems of Redondo Beach, California, and L3Harris Technologies, Inc. of Melbourne, Florida, have been selected to get the contracts from U.S. officials in order to reach the agency’s goal of setting up the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer, which will be a meshed network of around 126 optically-interconnected space vehicles, by as soon as September of 2024. The network is slated to cost roughly $1.3 billion.
“The speed with which SDA pursued this effort is commendable, given the severity of the hypersonic missile threat,” explained the chair and chief executive officer of L3Harris, Christopher E. Kubasik. “This prime contract is a testament to our growing impact in the space community and affirms our strategy of being a Trusted Disruptor is gaining traction.”
Both groups have agreed to construct a pair of planes to hold seven space vehicles per plane along with 14 satellites each to gather infrared data and allow networked communications.
The director of Space Development Agency, Derek Tournear, stated his optimism regarding both tech companies’ chances.
“[Space Development Agency] is confident that selection of the L3 Harris and Northrop Grumman teams provides the best overall solution to accelerate delivery of a low-Earth orbit constellation with wide-field-of-view infrared sensors for a global missile warning and missile tracking capability in Tranche 1, on schedule,” expressed Tournear.
This year, Congress handed over an additional sum of $550 million to the space agency in order to try and accelerate the creation and deployment of Tranche 1, especially in support of the U.S> Indo-Pacific Command.
The worldwide hypersonic arms race continues to rage as even more technologies have been developed with the U.S., Russia, and China, at the head of the pack.
One of the senior fellows at the American Foreign Policy Council who also sits on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Larry Wortzel, stated to Science.org that the hypersonic weapons from China “seem deliberately targeted at upending the tenuous strategic stability that has been in place since the end of the Cold War.”
He claimed that China could initiate strikes with conventional hypersonic weaponry due to the increased tensions surrounding Taiwan that would end up weakening U.S. forces stationed through the Pacific Ocean.
Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, claimed to The Wall Street Journal that China has been able to successfully produce, test, and deploy its suite of hypersonic weaponry.
“This led some Pentagon thinkers to propose the idea of a weapon that could allow the U.S. military to quickly strike some threats,” stated Heath.
Analysts have stated that as of now, the U.S. is fairly defenseless against rocket-boosted hypersonic weaponry.
The director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Thomas Karako, stated to Science.org that the U.S. will need to be able to track the maneuvers of the missile in atmosphere in order to avoid just firing its defenses blindly.