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SLD 45 to support SBIRS GEO-6 launch, last satellite for infrared constellation

Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite, Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO)-6 is offloaded at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla. June 2, 2022. The SBIRS satellite is the sixth and final satellite in the constellation. (Space Force photo by Joshua Conti)

Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite, Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO)-6 is offloaded at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla. June 2, 2022. The SBIRS satellite is the sixth and final satellite in the constellation. (Space Force photo by Joshua Conti)

Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite, Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO)-6 is offloaded at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla. June 2, 2022. The SBIRS satellite is the sixth and final satellite in the constellation. (Space Force photo by Joshua Conti)

Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite, Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO)-6 is offloaded at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla. June 2, 2022. The SBIRS satellite is the sixth and final satellite in the constellation. (Space Force photo by Joshua Conti)

The then U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing supports United Launch Alliance’s launch of the third Space Based Infrared Systems Geosynchronous Earth Orbit spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket Jan. 20, 2017, from Launch Complex 41 at then Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Space Launch Delta 45 plans to support the launch of the final SBIRS satellite, GEO-6, Thursday. (Courtesy photo by United Launch Alliance)

The then U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing supports United Launch Alliance’s launch of the third Space Based Infrared Systems Geosynchronous Earth Orbit spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket Jan. 20, 2017, from Launch Complex 41 at then Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Space Launch Delta 45 plans to support the launch of the final SBIRS satellite, GEO-6, Thursday. (Courtesy photo by United Launch Alliance)

The then U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing supports United Launch Alliance’s launch of the third Space Based Infrared Systems Geosynchronous Earth Orbit spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket Jan. 20, 2017, from Launch Complex 41 at then Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Space Launch Delta 45 plans to support the launch of the final SBIRS satellite, GEO-6, Thursday. (Courtesy photo by United Launch Alliance)

The then U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing supports United Launch Alliance’s launch of the third Space Based Infrared Systems Geosynchronous Earth Orbit spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket Jan. 20, 2017, from Launch Complex 41 at then Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Space Launch Delta 45 plans to support the launch of the final SBIRS satellite, GEO-6, Thursday. (Courtesy photo by United Launch Alliance)

The then U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing supports United Launch Alliance’s launch of the third Space Based Infrared Systems Geosynchronous Earth Orbit spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket Jan. 20, 2017, from Launch Complex 41 at then Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Space Launch Delta 45 plans to support the launch of the final SBIRS satellite, GEO-6, Thursday. (Courtesy photo by United Launch Alliance)

The then U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing supports United Launch Alliance’s launch of the third Space Based Infrared Systems Geosynchronous Earth Orbit spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket Jan. 20, 2017, from Launch Complex 41 at then Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Space Launch Delta 45 plans to support the launch of the final SBIRS satellite, GEO-6, Thursday. (Courtesy photo by United Launch Alliance)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla. – On Thursday morning a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is scheduled to carry the U.S. Space Force’s Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit 6 missile warning satellite into space.

The satellite, which is the last in the SBIRS GEO constellation, will be launched into space just over a decade since the first SBIRS GEO satellite was launched in May 2011.

“If deterrence fails, I’m convinced that the next major conflict with a peer competitor will be won or lost in space,” said U.S. Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, in September 2020 at the Air Force Association Virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference. “Our adversaries are moving deliberately and quickly, to reduce our advantage. In order to be ready for the conflict, we must be bold. We must innovate. And we must move, and we must think faster. And we must empower and leverage the outstanding talent that we have.”

The integrated SBIRS satellite system is an example of that innovative thinking and leveraging of talent. The satellite was produced by Lockheed Martin in coordination with representatives from the Space Force and Department of Defense.

It provides long-range surveillance and target detection capabilities to support missions such as missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence, battlespace awareness, as well as infrared information for multiple missions simultaneously, according to a 2016 Air Force Technology report.

The infrared payload consists of two sensors: a scanner and a step-starer. The scanning sensor continuously scans the Earth to provide 24/7 global strategic missile warning capability. Data from the scanner contributes to theater and intelligence missions, according to the Space Force’s SBIRS factsheet.  

The step-staring sensor provides coverage for theater missions and intelligence areas of interest with its fast revisit rates and high sensitivity. The sensors gather raw, unprocessed data that are downlinked to the ground, “so the same radiometric scene observed in space will be available on the ground for processing,” the factsheet stated. The sensors also perform signal processing and transmit detected events.

The constellation, which orbits the Earth from 22,236 miles above the equator, serves as a deterrent for America’s enemies.  

“We need to know if an adversary launches a weapon toward us or one of our allies, especially if it’s a nuclear weapon, and this satellite system supports that capability and enables us to better protect the United States and our allies,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Kimmel, 5th Space Launch Squadron mission assurance technician from Everett, Washington. “I am very proud to support this mission.”

Kimmel is the lead mission assurance technician for the SBIRS GEO-6 launch. He traveled to Sunnyvale, California, in May to supervise operations as the satellite was transported to Moffett Field, California, loaded into a C-5 Galaxy from Travis Air Force Base and flown to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

“We make sure everything is done correctly from pressurization, to fueling operations, lifting operations, any movement of the satellite and more,” Kimmel said. 

The SBIRS GEO-6 launch is not the only one planned for Thursday. SpaceX plans to launch South Korea’s Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter into orbit at approximately 7:02 p.m. With a successful launch, Space Launch Delta 45 will support two launches in one day for the first time in decades.