by Senior Airman Phillip Houk and Mr. Christopher McCune
460th Space Wing Public Affairs, 460th Space Wing Historian
10/2/2015 - BUCKLEY AIR FORE BASE, Colo. -- Our
Air Force's space-based missile warning program has a robust history
stemming from the 1960s through the present. As these programs have
evolved over the decades, their continued presence demonstrates their
necessity to ensuring our national defense.
The United States' first true operational satellite defense program was
known as the Missile Defense Alarm System. Initiated in 1958, MIDAS
began with the first of nine launch attempts of infrared missile warning
satellites in February 1960, but only achieved mission success on two
of them--MIDAS 7 on May 9, 1963 and MIDAS 9 on July 18 of the same year.
These satellites attained orbit cycles of 44 days and 11 days,
respectively, and gathered enough data during their brief operational
life to convince top officials of the U.S. Air Force and Department of
Defense to pursue a follow-on program for enhanced infrared satellite
missile detection. The requirements for this program led to the
creation of the Defense Support Program in the late 1960s and progressed
in the ensuing decades into the Space-Based Infrared System.
The first launch of a DSP spacecraft took place on Nov. 6, 1970, onboard
a Titan IIIC rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Since the inaugural DSP launch, subsequent satellite launches secured
the DSP program as the primary space-based ballistic missile early
warning system for the United States and its allies abroad. As
America's primary space sentinel for 45 years, DSP continues to provide
early warning to command authorities of intercontinental ballistic
missile launches from around the world that could threaten the United
States and its foreign mission partners. Since its initiation as a Cold
War program, the DSP system has expanded, evolved and taken on new
capabilities, including early warning alerts of short-range theater
ballistic missile launches in high-interest areas.
Between 1970 and 1985, six DSP ground stations were instituted across
the globe to receive data from satellites within their field of view,
including at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado. Following the creation
of the SBIRS program on Aug. 15, 1996 a Mission Control Station was
established at Buckley AFB and became operational in December 2001.
This station consolidated all telemetry, tracking, command, and mission
processing operations for the DSP constellation while providing an
infrastructural asset for the eventual operation of SBIRS. In the years
that followed, the MCS has continued to evolve, integrate SBIRS space
assets, and synergize with mission partners across the globe. Through
these improvements, the MCS has enhanced its capability to detect,
process and provide warning to combatant commanders, deployed
warfighters, our nation and its allies from foreign missile threats.
As the SBIRS program continues to advance, new mission opportunities are
underway, including support civil agencies, in order to enhance their
respective missions such as U.S. Forest Services with early forest fire
The next advancement in space-based missile warning will be complete
with the SBIRS Block 10 upgrade. This effort will consolidate all SBIRS
operations, including DSP and SBIRS geosynchronous satellites and highly
elliptical orbit sensor constellations, into one facility. The Block
10 program encompasses upgrades at multiple SBIRS sites and consists of
major software revisions, additional computer processing hardware at the
MCS, and numerous additional hardware components at each relay ground
station to include fully leveraging new SBIRS scanner and starer sensor
capabilities. Block 10 is scheduled to achieve operations acceptance by
August 2016. The evolution of the SBIRS program also continues with the
anticipated launch of GEO-4 in 2016 and GEO-3 in late 2017, as well as
development of the GEO-5/GEO-6 satellites and HEO-3/HEO-4 sensors.