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Video: Military satellite helps U.S. intercept enemy missiles

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The U.S. Air Force launched a satellite that can pinpoint the location of incoming missiles and relay that information to battlefield commanders.


That whole Reagan-era stars wars program was so 80's -- or so you thought.

On Saturday, the U.S. Air Force launched into orbit a surveillance satellite that can pinpoint the location and trajectory of incoming missiles and relay that information to military units on the battlefield. The $1.3 billion GEO-1 satellite was carried into space aboard an Atlas V rocket and will orbit 22,000 miles above the earth.

While it won't be intercepting missiles by firing laser beams from the sky, as envisioned by the brains behind the Strategic Defense Initiative (don't worry they're already building battleship lasers for that), it will serve as a key component of the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS). Once the network is in place, a total four satellites will keep tabs on the suspicious activity of nations that U.S. officials consider to be hostile to American interests, such as Iran and North Korea.

The system was built to replace the current Defense Support Program satellites. Equipped with infrared sensors, the GEO-1 detects enemy missiles by picking up on the discrepancies between the heat signature emanating from the missile's exhaust and the ambient temperature in the background. It also offers important advantages over the older satellite system such as the ability to track multiple regions as well as multiple threats simultaneously.

This is achieved by using a sensor that continuously scans for missile launches, while a different sensor monitors a specific location. The scanning sensor has a wider range and will most likely be the first to detect a missile launch. But the fixed sensor would do a better job of gathering detailed information on a threat.

According to Fox News, the satellites are durable enough to last about 12 years with an estimated cost of about $17.6 billion to put into operation. The final SBIRS satellite expected to launch sometime in 2016.

(via Space.com, Fox News)

Image: Lockheed

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure