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Space Force SBIRS GEO-5 space vehicle enters critical thermal vacuum testing

Stephen Kuper

The Space and Missile Systems Center’s next Space Based Infrared System satellite (SBIRS GEO-5) reached a major milestone on its road to launch when thermal vacuum (TVAC) testing began on 16 April at Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Sunnyvale, California.

Space Force SBIRS GEO-5 space vehicle enters critical thermal vacuum testing
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SBIRS GEO-5 is a high-priority US Space Force program that provides worldwide missile warning capability for the US military. SMC’s Production Corps and its industry partner Lockheed Martin Space work in close collaboration to achieve this major milestone for the program.

TVAC testing simulates the space environment by producing a near vacuum and cycling through hot and cold temperature ranges that the satellite will experience through various stages of its orbit and seasonal cycles.

This critical testing verifies that all satellite components are operating correctly and meet strict requirements and standards under all conditions.

SBIRS uses infrared surveillance to provide missile warning for national defence. The system consists of a constellation of satellites in both geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and highly elliptical orbit (HEO).

Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Laughton, SBIRS GEO-5/6 program manager, said, “TVAC testing represents the culmination of hundreds of thousands of hours of work by both the government and Lockheed Martin Space ensuring that we are giving the warfighter a national asset. I am proud of the men and women of the SBIRS program and their families for the years of sacrifice to get us to this point.”

The newest SBIRS satellites, GEO-5 and GEO-6, are based upon Lockheed Martin Space’s modernised LM 2100 spacecraft – an update that improves overall system resiliency to provide mission assurance to the warfighter. 

The start of TVAC testing is a major milestone that drives the final testing and assembly of the space vehicle. Lockheed Martin Space overcame COVID-19 related challenges to maintain assembly and test operations with minimal impacts.

SBIRS GEO-5 is expected to launch in 2021.

The Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is the US Space Force’s Centre of Excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems.

Its portfolio includes the global positioning system, military satellite communications, defence meteorological satellites, space launch, range systems, satellite control networks, space-based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.

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