HomeNewsArticle Display

Space-based missile warning continues expansion

The Air Force Space Command-operated Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites are a key part of North America’s early warning systems.  In their 22,300-mile geosynchronous orbits, DSP satellites help protect the United States and its allies by detecting missile launches, space launches and nuclear detonations.

The Air Force Space Command-operated Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites are a key part of North America’s early warning systems. In their 22,300-mile geosynchronous orbits, DSP satellites help protect the United States and its allies by detecting missile launches, space launches and nuclear detonations.

SBIRS High features a mix of four geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) satellites, two highly elliptical earth orbit (HEO) payloads, and associated ground hardware and software. SBIRS High will have both improved sensor flexibility and sensitivity. Sensors will cover short-wave infrared like its predecessor, expanded mid-wave infrared and see-to-the-ground bands allowing it to perform a broader set of missions as compared to DSP.

SBIRS High features a mix of four geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) satellites, two highly elliptical earth orbit (HEO) payloads, and associated ground hardware and software. SBIRS High will have both improved sensor flexibility and sensitivity. Sensors will cover short-wave infrared like its predecessor, expanded mid-wave infrared and see-to-the-ground bands allowing it to perform a broader set of missions as compared to DSP.

BUCKLEY AIR FORE BASE, Colo. -- Our Air Force's space-based missile warning program has a robust history stemming from the 1960s through the present.  As these programs have evolved over the decades, their continued presence demonstrates their necessity to ensuring our national defense.

The United States' first true operational satellite defense program was known as the Missile Defense Alarm System. Initiated in 1958, MIDAS began with the first of nine launch attempts of infrared missile warning satellites in February 1960, but only achieved mission success on two of them--MIDAS 7 on May 9, 1963 and MIDAS 9 on July 18 of the same year. These satellites attained orbit cycles of 44 days and 11 days, respectively, and gathered enough data during their brief operational life to convince top officials of the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense to pursue a follow-on program for enhanced infrared satellite missile detection.  The requirements for this program led to the creation of the Defense Support Program in the late 1960s and progressed in the ensuing decades into the Space-Based Infrared System.

The first launch of a DSP spacecraft took place on Nov. 6, 1970, onboard a Titan IIIC rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Since the inaugural DSP launch, subsequent satellite launches secured the DSP program as the primary space-based ballistic missile early warning system for the United States and its allies abroad.  As America's primary space sentinel for 45 years, DSP continues to provide early warning to command authorities of intercontinental ballistic missile launches from around the world that could threaten the United States and its foreign mission partners.  Since its initiation as a Cold War program, the DSP system has expanded, evolved and taken on new capabilities, including early warning alerts of short-range theater ballistic missile launches in high-interest areas.

Between 1970 and 1985, six DSP ground stations were instituted across the globe to receive data from satellites within their field of view, including at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.  Following the creation of the SBIRS program on Aug. 15, 1996 a Mission Control Station was established at Buckley AFB and became operational in December 2001.  This station consolidated all telemetry, tracking, command, and mission processing operations for the DSP constellation while providing an infrastructural asset for the eventual operation of SBIRS.  In the years that followed, the MCS has continued to evolve, integrate SBIRS space assets, and synergize with mission partners across the globe. Through these improvements, the MCS has enhanced its capability to detect, process and provide warning to combatant commanders, deployed warfighters, our nation and its allies from foreign missile threats.

As the SBIRS program continues to advance, new mission opportunities are underway, including support civil agencies, in order to enhance their respective missions such as U.S. Forest Services with early forest fire detection.

The next advancement in space-based missile warning will be complete with the SBIRS Block 10 upgrade. This effort will consolidate all SBIRS operations, including DSP and SBIRS geosynchronous satellites and highly elliptical orbit sensor constellations, into one facility.  The Block 10 program encompasses upgrades at multiple SBIRS sites and consists of major software revisions, additional computer processing hardware at the MCS, and numerous additional hardware components at each relay ground station to include fully leveraging new SBIRS scanner and starer sensor capabilities. Block 10 is scheduled to achieve operations acceptance by August 2016. The evolution of the SBIRS program also continues with the anticipated launch of GEO-4 in 2016 and GEO-3 in late 2017, as well as development of the GEO-5/GEO-6 satellites and HEO-3/HEO-4 sensors.
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.