Northrop Grumman has selected GEOST, a Tucson-based startup, to provide sensor payloads for the missile tracking satellites being built for the Space Development Agency (SDA). GEOST, a subsidiary of LightRidge Solutions, specializes in electro-optical and infrared sensors for space applications. As part of the contract, GEOST will supply eight small Starlite sensors, each about the size of a soda can, to detect ground-based sources of interference. They will also provide a ground system to support the sensors.
These sensor payloads will be integrated into some of the satellites being developed by Northrop Grumman for SDA’s Tracking Layer constellation in low Earth orbit. In July 2022, both L3 Harris and Northrop Grumman were awarded contracts to build 14 Tranche 1 Tracking Layer satellites for SDA. The value of these contracts is estimated at around $700 million for L3 Harris and $617 million for Northrop Grumman. The satellites are scheduled to launch in September 2024.
According to Josh Hartman, the Chief Growth and Strategy Officer of LightRidge Solutions, GEOST’s approach to Space Protect and Defend (P&D) missions focuses on the “See…Say…Act” concept. The company believes that collecting and reporting data alone is insufficient. Space systems should be able to detect threats, raise an alarm, and respond autonomously and quickly with countermeasures.
Although the exact capabilities of the Starlite sensors were not disclosed, Hartman expressed hope that SDA would consider purchasing more Starlites once their effectiveness is proven during Tranche 1. In addition, the ground system developed by GEOST will provide threat data gathered by the Starlite sensors to various entities within the Defense Department and Intelligence Community. This modular infrastructure aims to support the protection of the SDA missile warning and track architecture, as well as other space defense centers and intelligence centers.
SDA’s future plans for Tranche 2 include equipping some of the satellites with a “directed energy sensor” to enhance their resilience against directed energy attacks. This suggests that the data collected by these sensors may be utilized by Space Force operators to identify and counter sources of interference.