The SBIRS program is the follow-on capability to the highly successful Defense Support Program (DSP).  The SBIRS program was designed to provide a seamless operational transition from DSP to SBIRS and meet jointly defined requirements of the defense and intelligence communities in support of the missile early warning, missile defense, battlespace awareness, and technical intelligence mission areas.


The SBIRS program consists of the space segment of Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites and Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) sensors riding on Host satellites, with the associated world-wide deployed ground systems.  Air Force Space Command's 460th Operations Group is responsible for conducting HEO, GEO and DSP operations at all fixed ground sites.  Air National Guard Unit, 233D Space Group, operates the SBIRS Mobile Ground System (MGS) currently, providing survivable and endurable mission support.  The SBIRS program is managed by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate (RS) at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Lockheed Martin (LM) Space Systems Company is the prime contractor responsible for program management, systems engineering, and spacecraft development, while LM Information Systems and Global Solutions is the ground systems developer. Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems is the payload subcontractor for the infrared sensors. 

Two HEO sensors and four GEO satellites have launched.  All four GEO satellites were launched on United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex (SLC) 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  The SBIRS Mission Control Station (MCS) manages the constellation of HEO sensors, GEO satellites as well as the legacy DSP satellites.  The SBIRS Block 10 ground system consolidates the legacy DSP, HEO, and GEO ground systems from three locations into one primary and one backup ground station.  This consolidation provides a significant reduction in manpower requirements, allows for improved mission processing capabilities, and greatly increases performance across all four SBIRS mission areas.  The SBIRS Survivable/Endurable Evolution (S2E2) program will replace the aging MGS, initially designed for support of DSP operations in the 1960s, supporting SBIRS survivability and endurability requirements.

System Features

The SBIRS sensors are designed to provide greater flexibility and sensitivity than the DSP infrared sensor and detect short-wave and mid-wave infrared signals, allowing SBIRS to perform a broader set of missions. These enhanced capabilities result in improved prediction accuracy for global strategic and tactical warfighters.  The on-going evolution of the ground system uses improved mission processing software, resulting in increased event message accuracy, and reduced manpower for support and operations of the DSP and SBIRS portfolio. 

The GEO spacecraft bus consists of a militarized, radiation-hardened version of the Lockheed Martin A2100 spacecraft, providing power, attitude control, command and control, and a communications subsystem with five separate mission data downlinks to meet mission requirements, including system survivability and endurability requirements.  The GEO infrared payload consists of two sensors; a scanner and a step-starer.  The scanning sensor continuously scans the earth to provide 24/7 global strategic missile warning capability.  Data from the scanner also contributes to theater and intelligence missions.  The step-staring sensor, with its highly-agile and highly-accurate pointing and control system, provides coverage for theater missions and intelligence areas of interest with its fast revisit rates and high sensitivity.  Similar to the GEO scanning sensor, the HEO sensor is a scanning sensor, with sensor pointing performed by slewing the full telescope on a gimbal. Both the GEO and HEO infrared sensors gather raw, unprocessed data that are down-linked to the ground, so that the same radiometric scene observed in space will be available on the ground for processing.  The GEO sensors also perform on-board signal processing and transmit detected events to the ground, in addition to the unprocessed raw data.

   - Dimension
     o HEO sensor: approximately 7 ft x 4 ft x 3 ft
     o GEO satellite: approximately  49 ft x 22 ft x 20 ft with all appendages deployed on-orbit

  - Weight (all weights approximate)
     o HEO sensor: 530 lbs
     o GEO satellite: on-orbit, 5,525 lbs, including a 1,100 lb two-sensor payload and 430 lbs of fuel

  - GEO power source: 2 deployable, sun-tracking solar arrays

  - First GEO satellite launch on 7 May 11

  - Second GEO satellite launch on 19 Mar 13

  - Third GEO satellite launch on 20 Jan 17

  - Fourth GEO satellite launch on 19 Jan 18

(Current as of September 2018)