SpaceX Wins Pentagon Contract Worth USD 149 Million To Build Missile Tracking Satellites

Elon Musk-led aerospace company SpaceX has won a USD 149 Million contract to develop missile-tracking satellites for the Pentagon. Under the U.S. Space Development Agency (SDA) contract, SpaceX will be using its Starlink assembly plant in Redmond, Washington to build the satellites.

According to an SDA official, the space company will build four satellites that are equipped with wide-angle infrared missile-tracking sensors. The development of the satellites is to detect intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) which has a minimum range of 3,400 miles while they’re also difficult to track and intercept. These satellites will not only track and provide missile warning but will also provide cueing data for the Missile Defense Agency’s Hypersonic Ballistic Missile Tracking Sensor program’s moderate view of satellites. Along with this, it will receive cues from other systems and present low latency tracking data on hypersonic threats.

SDA’s Director Derek Tournear conveyed in a statement that the awards will embody as a “next step” in the National Defense Space Architecture. “The SDA Tracking Layer is an integral part of the [Defense] Department’s overall overhead persistent infrared strategy to detect, track, and defeat advanced missile threats,” he said in a statement. “We are confident these fixed-price awards will help us deliver the initial tranche of the Tracking Layer on schedule.” Besides this, L3 Harris Technologies Inc. is also granted with a contract of USD 193 Million to build four satellites. Both the companies are expected to dispatch their satellites for launch in the year 2022.

After the launch of these satellites, it will get linked to the SDA’s National Defense Architecture, transport layer with help of optical inter-satellite links. The award is part of the SDA’s September granted contracts to York Space Systems and Lockheed Martin for in total 20 satellites for Tranche 0 of the Pentagon’s transport layer. Earlier, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had the authority over the space sensor layer effort while Pentagon moved the command to SDA. However, lawmakers pushed the proposal back and now both the agencies are working collaboratively for the effort.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with industry and our government partners like MDA to deliver a tracking solution that puts critical information in the hands of the joint warfighter at or ahead of the speed of the threat,” he said. This isn’t SpaceX’s first contract from the U.S. defense department. In 2019, it received a contract of USD 28 Million from the Air Force to use the Starlink satellite network to test Internet services with military planes. Fast-forward in August 2020, SpaceX won a Pentagon contract to send high military prioritized satellites which will do intelligence gatherings and assist in military communications. The company partnered with ULA for the contract.

Besides this, SpaceX will be providing launch services to NASA for its IMAP mission and subsequent payloads. In the statement issued by NASA, the IMAP mission is expected to launch on October 24, 2020. The four payloads will be launched on a Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket from Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Amidst of all the company’s missions, Elon Musk said last month in a tweet that SpaceX is only planning to IPO Starlink public but “only several years in future when revenue growth is smooth and predictable.”