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L3Harris will provide the Space Development Agency (SDA) with 16 satellites to detect, monitor, and track hypersonic missiles aimed at the US and its allies. The production is expected to begin in 2025.

This recent approval follows a critical design review phase (demonstrating that the design will meet the mission requirements) and a production readiness review phase (giving L3Harris the SDA’s approval to begin the full production process).

According to Interesting Engineering, the SDA is constructing a multi-layered network of satellites called the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture, or PWSA, which is a resilient, layered network of military satellites in low-Earth orbit. It includes a Transport Layer (made of a series of interconnected communication satellites) and a Tracking Layer (made of sensor satellites that collect and transmit data).

The Tracking Layer relies on infrared sensors and advanced algorithms to detect, track, and fuse threat data in real-time. The information is then transmitted through a network that uses optical and radio communications.

“Hypersonic missiles are the most destabilizing kinetic weapons in our adversaries’ arsenals due to their dim flight profiles, varied launch points, and high maneuverability,” explained L3Harris in a statement. “To deter their use and, when needed, to defeat them, the United States requires a resilient sensor platform to remove the veil from their flight paths.”

The development of maneuverable high-speed weapons by nations like China and Russia has led to a push for reliable hypersonic detection intended to evade traditional defensive systems. The first batch of Tracking Layer satellites (including some produced by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon RTX) will launch in 2025.