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.
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