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Next-Gen OPIR sensor payload clears critical milestone

A new missile warning satellite developed for US Space Force cleared a major developmental milestone, as service and industry partners prepare to press forward with payload testing and assembly.

The Raytheon-designed sensor payload for the Block 0 variant of the space force's Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) received critical design review (CDR) approval by service leaders on 17 August, according to a company statement. The sensor payload, once delivered, will be integrated into space delivery vehicles developed by Lockheed Martin.

By clearing the CDR milestone, programme officials with Raytheon's intelligence and space directorate say the payload's development is now “on schedule with Lockheed Martin on this go-fast program”, said Paul Meyer, vice president of the space & command and control (C2) division within Raytheon's space and intel directorate. Development of the Block 0 sensor payload wastagged by US Air Force officials as one of several “go-fast” acquisition programmes, designed to circumvent portions of the service's traditional procurement processes.

The CDR decision comes nearly a year after the Raytheon-built Next-Gen OPIR sensor payload and a variant built by a joint Northrop Grumman and Bell Aerospace team cleared the preliminary design review (PDR) milestone in June 2020. Since then, the US Department of Defense has set aside USD2.9 billion for its Next-Gen OPIR for fiscal year (FY) 2021, which included USD2.319 billion for research and development and USD160.9 million for procurement.

Next‐Gen OPIR is designed to augment and eventually replace the air force's legacy, satellite-based early warning missile defence system, the Space‐Based Infrared System Constellation (SBIRS). Next-Gen OPIR satellites will operate at geosynchronous (GEO) orbit and will be equipped with advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensor capabilities to address “adversary advances in missile technology and counter-space systems with added resiliency features”, according to FY2021 budget documents.

Programme officials prepare a SBIRS GEO-2  spacecraft for baseline integration.  (Lockheed Martin)

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