Boeing and Lockheed Martin, losers in the battle to develop the US Air Force's Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) low early-warning satellites, have joined one of the winning teams, led by relative newcomer Spectrum Astro.

SBIRS Low will be a constellation of around 24 low Earth orbit satellites providing mid-course tracking of ballistic missiles detected by SBIRS High surveillance spacecraft in geosynchronous and highly elliptical orbits.

Spectrum Astro/Northrop Grumman and TRW/Raytheon teams were awarded three-year, $275 million programme definition and risk reduction contracts in 1999. A Lockheed Martin/Boeing team was not selected.

Spectrum Astro is prime contractor for the SBIRS Low effort, with Northrop Grumman responsible for sensor design and related ground segment. Boeing will develop sensors and algorithms, while Lockheed Martin will develop algorithms and aspects of the ground segment.

Lockheed Martin is leading the SBIRS High programme, with Northrop Grumman supplying the infrared sensors. SBIRS High will comprise four satellites in geostationary orbit and two in highly elliptical orbits.

Meanwhile, fast-growing Spectrum Astro has picked up weather and defence technology satellite contracts worth $53 million. It has been awarded a $50 million prime contract to develop, integrate and launch a space vehicle that can accommodate the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Communications and Navigation Outage Forecasting System. The vehicle will monitor ionospheric disturbances, or scintillations, and provide real-time notification of potential degradation of satellite communications, navigation and surveillance systems.

In addition, the company has won a $3 million contract to develop a spacecraft design for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project. The craft will be launched in 2005 to provide global change observations, after the NASA Earth Observing System Terra and Aqua missions.

Source: Flight International