United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket launched with US Space Force satellite

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has launched an Atlas V rocket with the sixth and final Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO 6) spacecraft for the United States Space Force’s Space Systems Command. The ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The rocket launched from the Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 6.29 AM EDT (3.59 PM IST).

SBIRS is an early missile warning system that will be the successor to the Defense Support Program, whose first satellite launch took place in the 1950s. SBIRS will consist of a constellation of three satellites in geosynchronous orbit and two other classified satellites on highly elliptical orbits around the poles.

The first satellite of the constellation launched in 2011 and before SBIRS-6, the most recent launch was SBIRS-5 in 2021.

According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the SBIRS constellation has a continuous view of the whole of Earth’s surface, which it will image every 10 seconds, while searching for infrared activity heat signatures. This helps it detect missile launches fast while also helping identify missile type, burnout velocity, trajectory and likely point of impact.

The US Space Force is the sixth and newest department of the US military after its Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Air Force. It was established on December 20, 2019, when the National Defense Authorisation Act was signed into law. The creation of the Space Force came from the recognition that Space was going to be an important national security imperative in the future.