Missile Defense Agency Satellites Monitor The First Hypersonic Launch

Missile Defense Agency Satellites Monitor The First Hypersonic Launch

According to the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Department’s sophisticated missile surveillance satellites captured the first images of a hypersonic flight test this week.

MDA did not reveal the date of the flight, which took off from Wallops Island in Virginia.

“Initial reports show the sensors successfully collected data after launch,” the agency said in a June 14 statement. “MDA will continue to assess flight data over the next several weeks.”

The two Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor satellites are part of the Space Development Agency’s spacecraft constellation, which is meant to detect and observe hypersonic weapons or vehicles traveling at Mach 5 or higher.

The agencies have ten missile tracking satellites in orbit—eight from SDA and two from MDA. SDA did not immediately confirm whether its satellites also monitored the launch.

While the MDA and SDA sensors were developed separately, future tranches of SDA spacecraft will combine their capabilities, including the medium-field-of-view sensor used on HBTSS satellites. HBTSS sensors can monitor dimmer targets and transmit data to interceptors.

The array will eventually have 100 satellites, giving global coverage of advanced missile launches. For the time being, the small number of spacecraft provide only limited coverage. SDA Director Derek Tournear told reporters in April that organizing tracking chances for the satellites is difficult since they must be positioned above the missile testing facility.

He highlighted that, in addition to watching routine Defense Department test flights, the satellites are analyzing global hot zones for missile activity as they orbit the Earth.

The satellites tracked the inaugural flight of MDA’s Hypersonic Testbed, or HTB-1. The vehicle serves as a platform for hypersonic experiments and advanced components, and it adds to the growing inventory of high-speed flight test equipment. This comprises the Multi-Service Advanced Capability Hypersonic Test Bed from the Test Resource Management Center, as well as the Defense Innovation Unit’s Hypersonic and High-Cadence Airborne Testing Capabilities initiative.

MDA has not provided much information on HTB, including which company or companies created the technology. In a statement, the agency’s director emphasized the testbed’s capabilities for the entire hypersonic enterprise.

“This test was a huge success for MDA and our partners, marking the beginning of an affordable test bed to conduct hypersonic experiments. HTB-1 represents a significant step forward in hypersonic testing capability,” Lt. Gen. Heath Collins said. “HTB will allow the U.S. to pursue a broad range of state of the art technologies able to operate reliably in hypersonic flight environments.”