It’s called the Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, and it will ride atop an Atlas V rocket this evening. United Launch Alliance (ULA) tried to launch yesterday, but a violation of the Range safety criteria scrubbed it. The space launch provider will give it another go this evening at 7:42 pm EST (stream goes live at 7:22 pm EST).
ULA is hosting a live webcast of the launch below.
Tonight’s launch is looking good with a 90% chance of favorable weather.
— ULA (@ulalaunch) January 20, 2017
Here’s the satellite right before it was attached to the Atlas V.
— AF SMC (@AF_SMC) January 20, 2017
So what does SBIRS do? It’s a network of satellites designed to augment our missile defense using infrared surveillance to keep tabs on any potential missile launches. SBIRS is looking for the specific heat signatures missiles produce. Early detection gives the U.S. military the info they need to defend against any launch.
This satellite, called the SBIRS GEO-3, will park itself in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO). That’s where a satellite follows the direction of the Earth’s rotation and appears motionless if you looked at it through a telescope. From here, the satellite can constantly monitor the same area. It’s the same orbit many weather satellites are positioned in.
SBIRS satellites are placed in two different orbits. GEO and Highly Elliptical Orbit, or HEO. In HEO, satellites cover the areas those in GEO can’t see. Mainly, the polar regions. According to the SBIRS factsheet, the satellites in HEO will keep tabs on the North Polar region and help support the overall infrared detection mission.
SBIRS isn’t just for the military, though. The Air Force’s Data Utilization Lab is calling on industry professionals and academia to find ways SBIRS data could be used in civil applications.
Six SBIRS satellites are being planned right now. The fifth and sixth will be based on Lockheed Martin’s modernized A2100 spacecraft.
Credit: Lockheed Martin
Come back in a couple of hours to watch the always stunning night time launch. The YouTube stream goes live at 7:22 pm EST.
Top image credit: Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center