Lockheed Martin secures $977.5 million contract extension for missile-warning satellites.

Lockheed Martin was awarded a $997.5 million contract extension for their Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) program. The contract award has brought the program value to $8.2 billion. This contract extension will add two geosynchronous satellites to provide missile warning functionality. The satellites are designed with infrared sensors that are used to identify heat signatures of incoming ground missiles and give an early warning of potential attack to ground stations. This contract serves to extend Lockheed Martin’s involvement into 2029, as the defense contractor will also support on-orbit activities such as in-orbit test, calibration, and payload testing.

The Next-Gen OPIR program was originally planned to be a constellation composed of five satellites: two in a highly elliptical orbit (HEO) and the other three in a geosynchronous orbit (GEO). The multi-orbit constellation intends to diversify the missile warning capabilities. The Space Force has since reduced the number of GEO satellites in the constellation from three to two. While Lockheed Martin is the primary contractor for these satellites, Northrup Grumman will develop the mission payloads while BAE systems will develop the infrared payloads. The first launch is expected in 2026 given some early delays in the program.

This contract raises some critical questions regarding space cybersecurity. What cybersecurity implications are taken into consideration for critical government satellite programs such as those intended for missile tracking? Space systems in Earth orbit typically do not have design lifetimes over 15 years, which in turn means that new systems are consistently under development. Whereas previous or current satellites may not have been designed with cyber security in mind, it is possible to design and launch new systems with cyber protection in just a few years. On the other hand, ground stations are developed to last for lifetimes significantly longer than the individual satellites they will support. Likely, a majority of our ground stations were not designed cyber-secure. Given that the development of new ground stations is a significant investment, it is far more likely for existing ground stations to be upgraded slowly over time with cybersecurity features. It will be interesting to see whether a contract for a new major ground station is awarded in the coming years and learn whether cybersecurity is a primary concern for the development of that potential station.