Pentagon released a statement saying they are willing to spend $1.3 billion to develop and improve the US military’s satellite tracking system.
Last week, two new contracts were approved to develop advanced systems tracking hypersonic missile threats. According to Director of the Space Development Agency Derek Tournear, these new projects provide 28 satellites as the US expands its satellite reach to match the current threats from China and Russia.
These new missile systems will be able to monitor, detect the launch, follow hypersonic missiles and even predict its target as it changes course.
In the past years, China and Russia were reportedly gaining strides around the development of hypersonic missiles. Last year, a supposed test of these missiles “went around the world,” according to the tracking done by a senior US general.
“They launched a long-range missile. It went around the world, dropped off a hypersonic glide vehicle that glided all the way back to China, tha timpacted a target in China,” according to General John Hyten, outgoing Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
These missiles were strong enough that they almost hit the target. Because of this, Hyten warns the US of the speed of China’s hypersonic missile development, and if not matched, they could overtake the US and even make a “surprise nuclear attack,” according to CNN.
“Why are they building all of this capability? They look like a first-use weapon. That’s what those weapons look like to me.”
However, China refuted the report saying they were nowhere near producing a hypersonic missile system. Instead, it was just a “routing spacecraft experiment.”
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said no missile was launched, but it was just a “spacecraft.”
“This test was a routing spacecraft experiment to verify the reusable technology of spacecraft, which is of great significance for reducing the cost of spacecraft use. It can provide a convenient and cheap way for humans to use space peacefully. Many companies in the world have carried out similar experiments,” Zhao said.
However, these still sparked doubt within congress. Mike Gallagher, a Republic member of the US House Armed Services Committee, warns that this testing should “serve as a call to action.”
Now, the Senate is creating an action plan against this.
“Russia and China have been developing and testing hypersonic glide vehicles — these advanced missiles that are extremely maneuverable,” Tournear told Pentagon reporters Monday. “These satellites are specifically designed to go after that next generation version of threats out there so that we can detect and track these hypersonic maneuvering vehicles and predict their impact point.”
Congress approved the budget in response to the rising concerns in the Indo-Pacific region. Tournear reports that the US has not sent any hypersonic satellites that could be considered a threat. The US military has yet to design a system detecting these missiles since hypersonic weapons travel beyond Mach 5 (or about 3,800 mph).
Tournear admits, “we have limited capability to do the tracking aspect.”
The whole program is expected to create a dent in US capability to create a more efficient tracking for external threats. This system will supposedly have overlapping modes of monitoring. So rather than relying on a larger, more expensive satellite, the new system is expected to have a collection of smaller, cheaper satellites that are more efficient.
Older satellites are more expensive and usually stay in orbit for about 15 years or more. However, with the new satellite tracking program, the cheaper satellites have lower maintenance costs and can even be replaced every five years.
The satellites are expected to be launched at a lower orbit of 1,000 kilometers. The second set of satellites will be launched at medium orbit (10,000 to 20,000 kilometers) to create interlocking stability. They will likely start with launching 28 missiles, then follow with 34 more.
The contracts were awarded to Northrop Grumman Strategic Space Systems and L3Harris Technologies. L3Harris was assigned to produce 14 satellites at about $700, while Northrop is set to make 14 at the cost of about $617 million.
L3Harris is a long-standing government contractor who developed the AVCATT (Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer), the StingRay, Hailstorm phone trackers, and the OpenSky wireless communication system.
On the other hand, Northrop is known as one of NASA’s top contractors, with projects that include the OmegA rocket (next generation launch vehicles for space travel) and NASA’s Gateway Habitation Module.