Air Force Launches New Missile Detection Satellite

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V thunders off of the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

CAPE CANAVERAL — The U.S. Air Force launched the GEO-1 satellite on top of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 at 2:10 p.m. EDT on Saturday. The Space Based Infrared System program or SBIRS is designed to provide early warning regarding inbound missiles. 

GEO-1 was launched atop the ULA’s Atlas V launch vehicle. The Atlas V is one of the most reliable rockets in the U.S. arsenal with all of the launch vehicles 26 launches contributing to the rocket’s 100 percent success rate. 

The U.S. Air Force attempted to launch on Friday, however the weather which was predicted at providing a 70 percent chance of “go” – never materialized. It deteriorated throughout the day with storm clouds and intermittent rain halting repeated attempts to send the spacecraft on its way. 

This was not an issue on Saturday with clear skies from horizon-to-horizon, providing for a 90 percent chance of weather providing favorable launch conditions. 

The satellite is worth an estimated $1.2 billion and was built by Lockheed Martin. GEO-1 is the first in the SBIRS constellation. These spacecraft are set to replace the U.S. Air Force’s Defense Support Program satellites. 

“What this system will provide is global persistent infrared surveillance,” said U.S. Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Umstattd. “This is revolutionary, it’s a new sensor that the satellite has two of that are both taskable – which means we can tell them when and where to look relative to the previous system which is up there which is looking in a very repeatable fashion.” 

This system will work to improve the United States’ early warning of missile launches. They will also support other related missions such as intelligence gathering, missile defense and situational awareness for military personnel.

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