The speed and range of hypersonic weapons has taken the task of defending against them into space, where orbiting sensors can detect a launch the moment it happens – or even before.
“Every minute counts when it comes to hypersonics,” said Rob Aalseth, mission area director for Missile Warning and Defense at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business.
His team is developing a broad set of space technologies to detect, track and intercept hypersonic weapons at all phases of flight.
“What makes our company different is that we have end-to-end missile defeat capabilities in space, in the air and on the ground, and we can use our portfolio of capabilities and expertise to perform mission engineering across the entire hypersonic kill chain,” Aalseth said. “We develop and build the hardware and software, and then integrate it, both in space and on the ground.”
Those systems, he said, include optics and infrared sensors, command and control systems, ground mission management and the algorithms that process and analyze huge amounts of data. Raytheon Technologies’ 2020 acquisition of Blue Canyon Technologies has also enabled in-house production of small satellites.
Constellations of small satellites are the foundation of a smarter and more resilient defense, Aalseth said. Rather than putting a large, exquisite and costly satellite into space – and making it an attractive target to adversaries – the idea is to distribute the work of missile defense among an arrangement of smaller, simpler and more expendable satellites.
Beyond simply having the right number of sensors in the right place, they also have to process information far faster than ever before.
“Latency is the key parameter to address when defeating hypersonic threats. It affects every other parameter," Aalseth said.
On that front, Raytheon Intelligence & Space uses advanced missile detection and tracking algorithms that can perform highly precise missile track processing onboard the satellite in orbit.
“All of the other systems to date have had to send the data to the ground for processing," Aalseth said. "That wastes time.”