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Space Force's Next-Gen OPIR Missile Detection Program Pass Design Review

September 7, 2021

Space technology may not be at the forefront of your mind when thinking about homeland security, but it is for the U.S. Space Force, which recently cleared a major hurdle in the creation and implementation of its next missile detection system.

The Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR), program recently passed a critical design review (CDR)1, allowing the project’s five Block 0 satellites to be created before they are launched into orbit2. This program will replace the Force’s current detection system, the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS), when three of the Next-Gen OPIR’s satellites are launched into “in geostationary orbit (Next-Gen OPIR GEO) and another two in highly elliptical orbits for polar coverage,” according to a C4ISRNET space writer.2

“With this successful CDR we remain on schedule to launch the first GEO satellite in 2025,” Col. Brian Denaro, program executive officer for space development and director of Space Systems Command’s Space Development Corps, said in a statement. “As the backbone of our nation’s assured missile warning capability, we are leveraging streamlined acquisition authorities on the Next-Gen OPIR program to prototype solutions rapidly, using available industry capabilities and mature technology, to ensure that we can deliver advanced capabilities to the warfighter at operationally relevant speeds.”2

A key component of the Next-Gen OPIR satellites are built-in infrared sensors, which work by identifying heat signals emitted by missiles3.

“What I will say is that…there are shorter burn missiles, there’s advanced fuel, there’s a larger range of heat signatures — and we know that that requires more capable sensors,” Col. Dan Walter, senior materiel leader for Next-Gen OPIR at the Space and Missile Systems Center, said in an interview. “We are improving the capability above and beyond what SBIRS has right now to be able to detect a broader range of the missile arsenals that are out there.”3

Multiple weapons that utilize space technology or travel through space are a real threat to the United States including direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles and co-orbital ASAT weapons, as mentioned in the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Space Threat Assessment 20214. The prevalence of threats, makes the success of this program essential to the nation’s security, especially as the Next-Gen OPIR satellites will monitor previously exposed areas such as the North Pole3.

This CDR success follows other milestones met by the program’s partners and subcontractors including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, and Northrop Grumman. Lockheed Martin received almost $3 billion from the Air Force and another almost $5 billion for design and manufacturing, respectively5. Like Lockheed Martin, which assigned infrared sensor builds for three of the project’s satellites to subcontractors, Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace teamed up to build a payload on one satellite2.

“The Northrop Grumman and Ball Aerospace team brings deep mission expertise in missile warning and tracking to this program,” said Scott Lee, Northrop Grumman’s Vice President and General Manager of payload and ground systems in a Northrop Grumman press release. “Together, we’re delivering another generation of unblinking eyes in space as part of our nation’s strategic deterrence.”5

Autonomous and unmanned systems like the Next-Gen OPIR satellites are crucial to the nation’s security and have quickly become integral components of America’s critical infrastructure. If you’re interested in a secure career protecting people using cutting-edge technology, Capitol Technology University has the programs—and expert faculty—to help you secure a job securing the nation’s future. With degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, you can learn to manage, build, program, operate, or monitor projects like the Next-Gen OPIR satellites at Capitol Tech.

*Photo from Lockheed Martin


  1. Defense Acquisition University. Critical Design Review (CDR). Retrieved from
  2. Strout, N. (2020, August 24). Space Force, Lockheed are ready to start making the nation’s new satellites to watch for missiles. Retrieved from
  3. Harper, J. (2021, July 16). Space Force Has High Hopes for New Missile Warning Satellites. Retrieved from
  4. Harrison, T., Johnson, K., Moye, J., & Young, M. (2021). Space Threat Assessment 2021). Retrieved from
  5. Northrop Grumman. (2021, August 5). Northrop Grumman Completes Critical Design Review for Next-Gen OPIR Missile Warning Mission Payload. Retrieved from