Spaceflight Insider

Lockheed Martin built GEO Flight 3 Satellite returns first images

SBIRS GEO Flight 3 on Mass CG Stand

SBIRS GEO Flight 3 on Mass CG Stand in April 2016. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

The United States Air Force’s GEO Flight 3 surveillance satellite recently returned its first images, an event known as “first light.”

Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) on January 20, 2017, the new satellite began its observations from its perch 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) above the Earth’s equator. Operation of the spacecraft is conducted at the next-generation SBIRS ground station at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.

SBIRS (GEO Flight 3) Atlas V launch

SBIRS (GEO Flight 3) Atlas V launch. Photo Credit: ULA

After reaching its final orbit, the Lockheed Martin-built SBIRS (Space-Based Infrared System) GEO Flight 3 satellite successfully completed the deployments of its Sun-tracking solar arrays which provide it power, along with its antenna wing assemblies and light shade.

“With the satellite successfully on orbit, we are now working to ensure GEO Flight 3 continues the outstanding performance trends demonstrated by its predecessors, including better-than-specified sensor pointing accuracy and the ability to detect dimmer targets than expected,” said David Sheridan, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Overhead Persistent Infrared systems mission area.

This is the third Lockheed Martin Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite built for the Air Force. Together, the fleet of Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites enhances the military’s ability to detect missile launches.

“SBIRS GEO satellites are our nation’s missile warning sentinels and are critical assets to the U.S. military’s continually evolving mission,” David Sheridan said.

GEO Flight 4, the next satellite in the series, is currently at Lockheed Martin’s satellite production facility in Sunnyvale, California, where it will undergo final assembly, integration, and testing. Once that is complete, it will be sent to CCAFS, where it will be encapsulated and mounted to another United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and launched into orbit. Liftoff is currently scheduled for November 9, 2017.

Lockheed martin is also working under a no-cost contract with the Air Force to modernize the fifth and sixth satellites by integrating a modernized A2100 spacecraft bus into the satellites. The new design will allow for a configurable payload incorporating sensors yet to be fully developed. The new bus design also allows concurrent testing of the payload and bus which saves production costs by reducing testing time.

The SBIRS development team is led by the Remote Sensing Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Sunnyvale, California, is the SBIRS prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Azusa, California, as the payload integrator. The 460th Space Wing, Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, operates the SBIRS system.



Lloyd Campbell’s first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then he’s attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agency’s new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.

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