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Atlas V Launches Latest Early-Warning Infrared Surveillance Satellite For US Air Force

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SpaceX rocket launched with satellite for NATO surveillance

On Friday, Jan. 19, the ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the SBIRS GEO Flight 4 surveillance satellite was launched into the Earth's low orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The successful launch completes the U.S. baseline constellation of surveillance satellites.

The launch that was originally scheduled on Thursday, Jan. 18, was delayed due to ground issues related to the rocket booster's liquid oxygen system.

The launch began at 7:48 p.m. on Friday. The liftoff proceeded without any issues at 7:52 p.m. In the final stage of the launch, the GEO Flight 4 was released into orbit from the Atlas V Centaur's upper stage.

The launch is part of the long-term modernization program of the U.S. missile surveillance technology. The fleet is the "bell ringer to a launch anywhere on the face of the planet," according to Col. Dennis Bythewood of the Space and Missile Systems Center.

The GEO Flight 4 is the fourth geostationary satellite in the Space-Based Infrared Systems that uses an infrared sensor to detect and track missile launches.

Eye In The Sky

The 10,000-pound satellite will serve as the U.S. Air Force' eye in the sky on possible launches of missiles and rockets.

The GEO 4 is equipped with infrared sensors that can detect heat signatures from incoming missiles. The satellite can feed information on the origin and trajectory of the missiles. This could help defense units in intercepting incoming missile before it hits a target.

The SBIRS is a sophisticated satellite surveillance system designed to meet the current demand for early-warning technology to guard against missile attacks. SBIRS will replace the Defense Support Program that provided missile warning technology for the U.S. Air Force since 1970.

GEO satellites fly in geosynchronous orbits, and it can provide early warning against nuclear strikes from enemy states while monitoring rocket and missile launches in other countries. The main features of the satellites include infrared surveillance, scanning, and intelligence-gathering. Sensors in the GEO satellites can also provide additional observations of the Earth's polar regions.

Modern Space Surveillance

When complete, the surveillance constellation will comprise of four SBIRS satellites and, at least, two infrared payloads in elliptical orbits that will piggyback on secret National Reconnaissance Office spy satellites.

The $1.2 billion GEO 4 will join three other geostationary satellites. GEO 3 was deployed in orbit in 2017. GEO 1 and GEO 2 were launched in 2011 and 2013, respectively. In 2012, orders were placed for two other geostationary satellites. The expected launch date for GEO 5 and GEO 6 is in early 2020.

Lockheed Martin built the spy satellites for the U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman provided the infrared payload for the satellites.

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