$29M contract awarded by US Space Force to L3Harris for satellite sensors

L3Harris Technologies will now become the third potential supplier of space-based sensors for a Space Force's planned missile tracking satellite constellation.
Christopher McFadden
L3Harris Technologies are now third potential supplier for the Space Force.


L3Harris Technologies, a defense contractor specializing in surveillance solutions, microwave weaponry, and electronic warfare, has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract to help develop missile-tracking systems for the United States Space Force.

The Space Force has chosen L3Harris to design a new sensor as part of the first phase of their satellite program, called "Epoch." This expands the team of industry experts working on the project, which already includes Millennium Space Systems and Raytheon Technologies. The satellites will be placed in medium Earth orbit, ranging from 1,200 to 22,000 miles above the planet. With L3Harris on board, the Space Force will have additional options as they continue to expand the satellite constellation.

“Adding a third vendor reduces risk and non-recurring engineering not only for Epoch 1 but for future Epochs, " Col. Heather Bogstie explained in a June 5 statement. “Having another payload option opens the trade space and allows us to take advantage of all industry has to offer as we deliver high-quality capability to the warfighter,” she added.

As part of its efforts to enhance its missile-warning and -tracking abilities in response to the increasing threats posed by China and Russia, the Space Force has developed a program that involves launching satellites into medium and low Earth orbit, reaching up to 1,200 miles above the planet.

Currently, spacecraft designed for missile warning is primarily stationed in geosynchronous orbit, which is roughly 22,000 miles (just over 35,400 km) away from Earth. However, satellites located in medium Earth orbit, situated between low and geosynchronous Earth orbits, are capable of monitoring extensive regions without necessitating highly complex sensors positioned at greater distances from the planet.

According to the Space Force, the initial spacecraft launch is scheduled for 2026. By 2028, they aim to have deployed four satellites in medium-Earth orbit, with a plan to implement technology advancements every three years.

The Space Force has requested a budget of $538 million for medium-Earth orbit tracking satellites to support Epoch 1 in the fiscal year 2024. Based on the budget documents, Defense News reports, it is estimated that the total cost for this project from FY24 to FY28 will be $3.5 billion.

According to Col. Brian Denaro, the program executive officer for space sensing at Space Systems Command, the service plans to evaluate the final designs of each company this fall before deciding whether to include a third sensor for Epoch 1. It has been observed that the Space Force has not yet determined the exact number of satellites to be included in Epoch 1, as they are currently assessing different options.

“It really depends on what altitude they’re at, what technology you have, the size of their sensor,” he said. “I would say that each vendor comes in with a different way to solve the problem, which creates an interesting opportunity for us to look at all the trades that go across those various solutions,” he added.

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