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Lockheed Martin has selected Raytheon and a Northrop Grumman/Ball Aerospace team to compete as potential mission payload providers for the US Air Force's (USAF) Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next Gen OPIR) Geosynchronous (GEO) Block 0 missile warning satellite system.

The competition will be executed as part of the Phase 1 contract for the Next Gen OPIR Block 0 GEO satellites and includes development through the Critical Design Review (CDR) phase. As part of a programme heralded by the USAF as a pacesetter for ‘Go Fast’ acquisition, Lockheed Martin selected the two suppliers on 28 September – just 45 days after the company's own prime contract award on 14 August.

Next Gen OPIR is a new missile warning satellite system acquisition programme that will deliver advanced capabilities to keep pace with adversary advancements. It will succeed the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) by providing improved missile warning capabilities that are more survivable and resilient against emerging threats. The programme was implemented as a rapid acquisition programme, with Lockheed Martin targeting the first GEO satellite delivery in 60 months.

"Next Gen OPIR is a very important programme for our nation, with a challenging schedule, and [a] set of technical and resiliency requirements different [from] prior programmes," commented the company’s Vice President for OPIR systems, Tom McCormick. "We recognise that this is a watershed programme for the Air Force, and we understand the need to 'Go Fast' to ensure our national security posture stays ahead of emerging global threats."

Lockheed Martin is working with the USAF on a variety of initiatives to increase the speed of satellite acquisition, including introducing more commonality of parts and procedures into production, building predictability into schedules and supply chain orders, and incorporating additive manufacturing.

The Raytheon and Northrop Grumman/Ball Aerospace teams were selected due to their ability to meet stringent schedule and capability requirements. They are now tasked to develop detailed designs and compete their solutions for potential use on the satellites, with a final down-select expected at the end of the CDR phase in 2020.

An ATLAS V rocket carrying the SBIRS GEO Flight 4 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41. (Photo: United Launch Alliance)

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