NFIRE (Near Field Infrared Experiment) is an experimental satellite to be launched in on a rocket in 2006 that is designed to distinguish between a ballistic missile's fiery plume and the rocket itself, according to an official at the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).
Data from the Near Field Infrared Experiment will help validate the MDA's choice of kill vehicles and tracking sensors for boost-phase missile defense, and help improve the guidance and homing ability of ground-based interceptors, the official said.
Spectrum Astro of Gilbert, Ariz., will build up to three satellites for the program under a contract won through an MDA call for innovative missile defense concepts issued in February. The missions will cost about $65 million each, not including launch. MDA has no plans at this time to pursue an operational constellation based on the Near Field Infrared Experiment satellites.
The MDA will place one satellite into a low Earth orbit during 2006 to track targets launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and will conduct experiments over a one-year period, the official said. MDA's firm plans cover the purchase of only the first satellite.
Discriminating between a missile and its exhaust plume has long been a point of difficulty with boost phase missile defense, according to an industry source familiar with the planned experiment. Problems distinguishing between the two can cause an interceptor to be fired at the plume, rather than the rocket.
MDA launched two Minotaur-2+ ballistic missiles as part of a 20 km fly-by test and a 3.7 km fly-by and simulated engagement.
The primary payload is the Track Sensor Payload (TSP) which will be used to collect the images of the boosting rocket. The TSP was developed by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) of San Diego, California under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
The secondary payload is a Laser Communications Terminal (LCT) which will be used to evaluate the utility of laser communications for missile defense applications. The LCT was developed by Tesat-Spacecom and is provided by the German government as part of a cooperative agreement between the United States and Germany.
The NFIRE payload was originally to include a sensor package using the sensors of a generation 2 kill vehicle for the 3.7 km engagement that will reportedly hit to kill. The NFIRE-KV would not include an axial stage that would be necessary for engagements at realistic distances, although the FY 2005 budget requests funding to develop and test such a liquid axial stage. In the launched configuration, the KV will only be able to intercept targets launched directly towards the NFIRE spacecraft. Later, the Kill Vehicle was cancelled and replaced by a laser communication package.
|Type / Application:||Research|
|Contractors:||General Dynamics C4 Systems (Spectrum Astro), U.S. Air Force Resarch Laboratory|