Orbital ATK, Inc. (NYSE: OA) said it has concluded eight years of mission support for the Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) satellite with the decommissioning of the spacecraft on August 5, 2015.
Sponsored by the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and built at Orbital ATK´s satellite manufacturing facility in Gilbert, Arizona, NFIRE was originally designed as a one-year mission to collect data from exhaust “plume” observations of boosting rockets with the intent to advance launch detection and tracking systems.
The addition of the Laser Communications Terminal (LCT) expanded NFIRE´s mission to assess viability of satellite-to-satellite high speed communication links. During its eight years on orbit, NFIRE helped advance the state-of-the-art ballistic missile detection system, accomplished bi-directional satellite laser communications at will and boosted international collaboration with Germany.
NFIRE launched in April 2007 aboard an Orbital ATK Minotaur I from Wallops Island, Virginia. Orbital ATK was the system integrator for the NFIRE mission, with responsibility for the design and manufacture of the defense satellite, based on the company´s flight-proven LEOStarâ¢ spacecraft architecture.
Other contributions included payload integration, full satellite system testing, configuration of two ground mission operation centers and on-orbit operations support. Orbital ATK also led the mission assurance and systems engineering integrated product teams. After in-orbit testing was completed, the company turned the satellite over to the MDA for primary management.
NFIRE´s primary instrument has been the Track Sensor Payload, which has been able to collect data on targets of opportunity through precision detection and tracking despite environmental background clutter (i.e., atmospheric variables, clouds, land-sea visibility and more).
The secondary payload, the Laser Communications Terminal (LCT), supported successful laser communications demonstrations as part of a cooperative agreement between the US and Germany.
The NFIRE decommissioning process encompassed three burns that progressively lowered the satellite´s orbit, dumped its fuel and left the spacecraft in a low-altitude orbit that will lead to atmospheric re-entry. Currently, the MDA is not planning a successor to NFIRE, but the mission´s legacy will continue within next-generation missile detection systems.
Orbital ATK is a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies. The company designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation systems for customers around the world, both as a prime contractor and merchant supplier. Headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, Orbital ATK employs more than 12,000 people in 18 states across the US and in several international locations.