Defense Satellite Led to Advanced Missile Detection and Laser
Mission and Data Boosted International Collaboration Between U.S. and
DULLES, Va.Sep. 28, 2015--
Orbital ATK, Inc. (NYSE:OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense
technologies, today announced it concluded eight years of mission
support for the Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) satellite with
the decommissioning of the spacecraft on August 5, 2015.
Sponsored by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and built at Orbital
ATK s satellite manufacturing facility in Gilbert, Arizona, NFIRE was
originally designed as a one-year mission to collect data from exhaust
plume observations of boosting rockets with the intent to advance
launch detection and tracking systems. The addition of the Laser
Communications Terminal (LCT) expanded NFIRE s mission to assess
viability of satellite-to-satellite high speed communication links.
During its eight years on orbit, NFIRE helped advance the
state-of-the-art ballistic missile detection system, accomplished
bi-directional satellite laser communications at will and boosted
international collaboration with Germany.
NFIRE is an example of a defense satellite that far exceeded its
original intent and became a shining star program of the Missile
Defense Agency, said Rick Kettner, Gilbert Site Manager for Orbital
ATK. The value of the NFIRE team s hard work and data not only resulted
in annual mission extensions from one year to eight, but also served as
a pathfinder for sustaining systems like the Space Tracking and
Surveillance System (STSS) and Germany s ongoing Laser Communications
NFIRE launched in April 2007 aboard an Orbital ATK Minotaur I from
Wallops Island, Virginia. Orbital ATK was the system integrator for the
NFIRE mission, with responsibility for the design and manufacture of the
defense satellite, based on the company s flight-proven LEOStar
spacecraft architecture. Other contributions included payload
integration, full satellite system testing, configuration of two ground
mission operation centers and on-orbit operations support. Orbital ATK
also led the mission assurance and systems engineering integrated
product teams. After in-orbit testing was completed, the company turned
the satellite over to the MDA for primary management.
NFIRE s primary instrument has been the Track Sensor Payload, which has
been able to collect data on targets of opportunity through precision
detection and tracking despite environmental background clutter (i.e.,
atmospheric variables, clouds, land-sea visibility and more).
The secondary payload, the Laser Communications Terminal (LCT),
supported successful laser communications demonstrations as part of a
cooperative agreement between the U.S. and Germany. The German
government provided the LCT for NFIRE and flew a sister spacecraft, the
TerraSAR-X (TSX-1), with an identical LCT on board to conduct
space-to-space links and space-to-ground experiments. Together, NFIRE
and TSX-1 accomplished the first data transfer between two spacecraft at
a rate of 5.6 gigabits per second.
From November 2008 to April 2015, NFIRE successfully executed more than
950 inter-satellite and satellite-to-ground laser communications links
with its Laser Communications Terminal, said Tawnie Harrison, Orbital
ATK s NFIRE Program Manager. I m proud of the team and the many
technical accomplishments we achieved for our customer and partners over
the mission lifetime.
The NFIRE decommissioning process encompassed three burns that
progressively lowered the satellite s orbit, dumped its fuel and left
the spacecraft in a low-altitude orbit that will lead to atmospheric
re-entry. Currently, the MDA is not planning a successor to NFIRE, but
the mission s legacy will continue within next-generation missile
About Orbital ATK
Orbital ATK is a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies.
The company designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation
systems for customers around the world, both as a prime contractor and
merchant supplier. Its main products include launch vehicles and related
propulsion systems; missile products, subsystems and defense
electronics; precision weapons, armament systems and ammunition;
satellites and associated space components and services; and advanced
aerospace structures. Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, Orbital ATK
employs more than 12,000 people in 18 states across the U.S. and in
several international locations. For more information, visit www.orbitalatk.com.
Source: Orbital ATK, Inc.
Space Systems Group Public Relations