The eyes of Argus

What Greek mythology can tell us about missile defense

Raytheon is developing a wide-range of space-based sensors for missile warning.

To the ancient Greeks, Argus Panoptes was a thousand-eyed giant who always kept watch, even in his sleep. 
 
That constant vigilance resonates with those responsible for keeping our nation, along with friends and allies, safe. It's why the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Defense's research arm DARPA and Raytheon are creating a new, space-based blanket of advanced sensors; to keep "eyes always on" in the lookout for potential missile attacks.
 
"The pace of technology is on a near-exponential curve right now," said Wallis Laughrey, vice president of Raytheon Space Systems. "Our adversaries are testing new weapons that require a new means of detection."
 
The challenge is to field those new means quickly. To that end, the Air Force designated Next Gen OPIR – a system of satellites to provide early warning of intercontinental and theater ballistic missile launches – as a Go-Fast program. It replaces the Space-Based Infrared System by providing more survivable and resilient missile warning from geostationary orbit.
 
The Next-Gen OPIR program consists of three GEO and two polar satellites, all of which are expected to be in orbit by 2029. 
 
"Our ability to counter the threat is only as good as our ability to see it," added Laughrey.  
 
Defense contractor Lockheed Martin turned to Raytheon to design the payload for their Next-Gen OPIR Block 0 resilient missile-warning satellites.
 
The first geostationary orbiting satellite is scheduled to launch in 2025. Raytheon's GEO contract covers development through system-critical design review. 
 
Next-Gen OPIR is one piece of the space-based layer puzzle. Space-based systems need to be geographically spread out to offer the most coverage, just like ground-, sea- and land-based systems do. The only difference is that when you're operating from space, you have a lot more territory to cover. 
 
Enter DARPA's Blackjack program. Blackjack provides another layer of persistent global coverage. Designed to operate in low earth orbit, also referred to as LEO, Blackjack will network multiple sensors together.  Blackjack's mission is to demonstrate sensors, including OPIR sensors, that are low in size, weight and power, and that can be mass-produced to fit on many different buses from many different providers - for less than $2M a payload.
 
Once the sensors are in space, one of their applications could be missile warning.  
 
"The beauty of Blackjack is it's an autonomous system," said Mike Rokaw, director for Raytheon Space Systems. "Once it's in space, it will be able to task itself – and (be) aware of its health. That means it will be able to automatically adjust to deliver info to the end user, without intervention from the operator."
 

Published On: 06/14/2019
Last Updated: 06/18/2019