Northrop Grumman moves forward with designing ballistic missile tracking satellites with infrared sensors

July 3, 2024
NGP is to augment and then replace the current Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning constellation, operating since last March.

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – U.S. Space Force experts are taking another step toward deploying four new satellites to keep watch over Earth's norther polar region to provide early warning of ballistic missile launches toward the United States.

Officials of the Space Systems Command at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., announced a $93.8 million order to the Northrop Grumman Corp. Space Systems segment in Redondo Beach, Calif., on Monday for Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Polar (NGP) space vehicles 1 and 2.

This order brings $2.75 billion that U.S. Space Force officials have spent so far on the first two NGP polar satellites 1 and 2. The satellites will use advanced infrared sensors to detect and track ballistic missile launches.

Related: The technological challenges of complex missile defense

NGP is to augment and then replace the current Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) missile warning constellation. The six SBIRS satellites have been operating in geosynchronous orbit since last March. SBIRS also has two sensors aboard classified satellites in polar orbit.

NGP will have two satellites in polar orbits to detect ballistic missile launches and track the missiles from space. These satellites are scheduled for first launch as early as 2028.

Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace will design and develop the sensor payloads for the two NGP ballistic missile tracking satellites at Northrop Grumman’s site in Azusa, Calif. The two satellites, operating in highly elliptical orbits, will use infrared sensors for missile tracking.

Related: Sensors make-or-break ballistic missile defense

NGP infrared sensor payloads also will have cyber-hardened communications to transmit mission data to the ground and help identify infrared heat signatures of incoming missiles.

The initial $47 million contract to Northrop Grumman to begin designing NGP satellites 1 and 2 came in June 2018. A $2.4 billion order off that contract came in May 2020 for the first phase of design and development. Northrop Grumman won a $235 million order in October 2023, before the latest $93.8 million order came this week.

On this latest order, Northrop Grumman will do the work in Redondo Beach, Calif., and should be finished by September 2024. For more information contact Northrop Grumman Space Systems at, or Space Systems Command at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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