Concept: The US government’s Missile Defense Agency has assigned a  contract to Florida’s technological company L3Harris to build a prototype satellite demonstration for the agency’s Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS). The project is a burgeoning constellation designed for low Earth orbit capable of identifying and tracking hypersonic weapons.

Nature of Disruption: The HBTSS design puts the sensor much closer to the Earth’s surface in the lower orbit that facilitates easier threat visualization for the sensor. But the sensor may have a limited field of view on the earth as it would be placed much closer to the earth’s surface. To achieve global coverage, the company is to develop a proliferated constellation made up of dozens of satellites on-orbit. The constellation is designed to fill the gap in the nation’s missile defense architecture created by hypersonic weapons, which are dimmer than conventional ballistic missiles, making them harder to spot with the nation’s infrared sensors stationed in geosynchronous orbit. They also can navigate past terrestrial sensors.

Outlook: Along with Northrop Grumman, Leidos, and Raytheon Technologies, L3Harris was one of four firms granted $20mn contracts in 2019 to build a prototype payload design and risk reduction demonstration for HBTSS. Work on those designs was supposed to be completed by Oct. 31, 2020, according to the initial contract announcements. L3Harris was recently given $121 million by the agency to commence further proceedings after winning the ensuing competition amongst the four firms to develop the actual prototype. The business has also been chosen by the Space Development Agency to build eight wide field of view (WFOV) satellites that will track hypersonic threats and transmit data to HBTSS, with SpaceX building four more. The WFOV satellites can contribute to the first detection and trace of the weapons, passing custody from satellite to satellite as the threats traverse the globe. The WFOV satellites can transfer custody to the medium field of view HBTSS satellites, which can provide targeting solutions with their precision sensors. The WFOV satellites are expected to be launched in September 2022. The prototype contract for the HBTSS will be completed in July 2023.