Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has secured yet another sizeable government contract aimed at countering the real and potential capability gaps between American space and missile technologies and those being developed in competitor states like Russia and China.

The day after the Air Force announced awarding Lockheed a second hypersonic missile development contract worth nearly an additional half-billion dollars; they released another announcement regarding the development of a new series of hardened satellites intended to offer a more resilient platform for identifying missile launches. Lockheed Martin will be awarded a whopping $2.9 billion to build three geosynchronous earth orbit space vehicles for that purpose, with two more polar orbit satellites also under development through Northrop Grumman.

The new satellites referred to as overhead persistent infrared satellites, or OPIR, will be tasked with scanning the globe for light signatures indicative of missile launches that could potentially threaten America or its allies. Early identification of these launches is essential to America’s missile defense apparatus, which relies on early identification and complex algorithms to quickly assess the missile’s trajectory, determine the level of threat it presents, and if needed, launch interceptors to engage. Even a short delay in the identification of a launch could set that entire timetable back too far to get kinetic interceptors on target before the offensive missile reaches its target.

This graphic created by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency demonstrates the ten steps to successfully intercept a missile, starting first with launch detection via orbital sensors.

However, despite America’s reliance on satellites already in orbit for this function, those platforms were designed and built for use in uncontested space, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the orbital area above our heads is anything but uncontested. Both Russian and Chinese military space branches have weapons in development that are intended to destroy satellites, but a more pressing concern in the short term are systems designed not to destroy, but just to interfere.