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Northrop’s hypersonic missile tracker for MDA passes critical design review

US Missile Defense Agency Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor satellites
Northrop Grumman graphic

Northrop Grumman says it recently completed the critical design review of the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) prototype for the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

The review establishes the company’s technical approach for precise, timely sensor coverage to defeat ballistic and hypersonic missiles.

HBTSS satellites will provide continuous tracking and handoff to enable targeting of enemy missiles launched from land, sea or air.

Northrop is competing with L3Harris on the program under a contract from January this year. Both companies are expected to launch and carry out early orbit testing of HBTSS prototypes. The tests are expected to demonstrate the systems’ ability to continuously track and process observations of hypersonic threats, as well as their ability to effectively hand off the information so the missile is intercepted.

The sensors are a critical part of the Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) multi-layered constellation of satellites, which can sense heat signatures to detect and track missiles from their earliest stages of launch through interception.

MDA is working on HBTSS as it cannot populate the earth and the oceans with sufficient terrestrial radars to counter the threat of advanced missiles. The ‘birth to death’ tracking that HBTSS can provide when integrated with terrestrial sensors will make it possible to maintain custody of missile threats from launch through intercept regardless of location.

A video that was previously released by MDA illustrates how HBTSS fits into the hypersonic missile defense concept.

“When it comes to national safety, there’s no room for error,” said Sarah Willoughby, vice president, OPIR and geospatial systems, Northrop Grumman. “This critical design review puts Northrop Grumman on track to deliver a vital component of our missile defense architecture to keep the US and its allies safe against hypersonic threats.”