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U.S. Space Force Launches Missile Warning Satellite, Successfully "Talks" to It

An Atlas V rocket blasted off on Tuesday, May 18th, carrying the SBIRS GEO-5 missile warning satellite for the U.S. Space Force's Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) from Cape Canaveral Station. Following the successful launch, the operations team achieved communication with the satellite.
Artist impression of SBIRS GEO 5 satellite on orbit 1 photo
The Infrared System or SBIRS is a U.S. Space Force program that includes a combination of satellites and hosted payloads in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) and Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) and ground hardware and software. The network of satellites uses infrared surveillance and is designed to provide key capabilities in the areas of missile early warning, missile defense, battlespace awareness, and technical intelligence.

Built by aerospace company Lockheed Martin, the fifth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit – SBIRS GEO-5 for short – is the latest satellite to join the Space Force's orbiting missile warning constellation. It's also the first military satellite to be mounted on an LM 2100 Combat Bus, a modernized, compact variant of Lockheed Martin's LM 2100 spacecraft.

It features better resiliency and cyber-hardening, enhanced spacecraft power, propulsion and electronics, common components and procedures to streamline manufacturing, and flexible design that reduces the cost to incorporate future, modernized sensor suites.

Following its launch, the satellite successfully responded to the Space Force's commands. The takeoff took place around 1:37 p.m. EDT and signal aquisition was confirmed about 36 minutes in. SBIRS GEO-5 has separated from the Atlas V rocket, and it is now orbiting the Earth using its own propulsion.

SBIRS GEO-5 mission represents a big step toward the Next Gen OPIR Block 0, a program launched in 2018 that is planned to succeed SBRIS and provide more resilient missile warning satellites. The next mission, SBIRS GEO-6, is set to launch in 2022 and will also be based on Lockheed Martin's modernized LM 2100.

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