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Near-Field InfraRed Experiment (NFIRE)

The Near-Field InfraRed Experiment (NFIRE) The experiment places sensors aboard a satellite that will be launched into space, where the sensors would observe and collect infrared imagery of boosting intercontinental ballistic missiles. The NFIRE spacecraft was originally scheduled to launch in summer 2004. However, anomalies in the sensor payload delayed the delivery of the payload, in turn delaying the remaining activities.

In 2004, the KEI program office signed a memorandum of agreement and transitioned day-to-day management and execution of NFIRE to the Space Tracking and Surveillance System program. The day-to-day management of all NFIRE activities has since been transferred to the STSS program, which has extensive experience with the development of satellites. STSS officials stated that they did not expect the fiscal year 2005 delays to affect the experiment's launch date. The NFIRE satellite has been in orbit since it was launched from NASA's Wallops Island, Va. space launch facility on April 24, 2007.

The KEI program delayed some activities related to its Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE), which was being conducted to gather data on the risk in identifying the body of a missile from the plume of hot exhaust gases that can obscure the body while the missile is boosting. As part of its fiscal year 2005 activities, the KEI program intended to complete a number of tasks that would have enabled it to conduct the NFIRE experiment. In fiscal year 2005, the KEI program expected to calibrate and deliver the sensor payload, complete the space vehicle integration and acceptance test, procure targets, and certify mission operation readiness.

The primary objective is to collect near-field plume and hardbody data from several targets of opportunity and dedicated targets. Resultant data will be used for the development of homing algorithms for boost phase endgame and model development and verification. The satellite payload carries a suite of sensors that will collect data across a broad electromagnetic spectrum ranging from long-wave infrared to visible. In addition, critical data will be collected for early launch detection, sensor tracking, and characterizing the earth background. The NFIRE exercise campaign also supports the design and development of space-based sensors like the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) currently under development, as well as design and development of boost phase interceptor sensors.

On 23 August 2007 Vandenberg successfully launched a space launch vehicle, the Chimera, which is a modified Minuteman II booster vehicle with a simplified target payload at 1:31 a.m. from North Vandenberg. The launch was part of an exercise involving the tracking of a long-range target missile by the NFIRE, or Near Field Infrared Experiment, research satellite. This exercise provided an opportunity for the NFIRE satellite to collect high and low resolution images of a boosting rocket which will improve understanding of missile exhaust plume observations and plume-to-rocket body discrimination.

The Generation 2 kill vehicle (KV) is integrated into the near-field experiment payload. Second generation KE Boost KVs are mature variants of existing MDA developed KV components, and will be the first KVs with the performance to reliably achieve boost phase intercept. The information that NFIRE might provide would also be helpful in relation to a second alternative: the use of a multicolor seeker sensitive to two or more wavelength bands.

The prime integrator for the NFIRE satellite is General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, a business unit of General Dynamics of Fairfax, Virginia. The satellite is carrying two payloads into low earth orbit aboard an Air Force four-stage Minotaur I space launch vehicle, contracted through Orbital Sciences Corporation's Launch Systems Group. The primary payload is the Track Sensor Payload (TSP) which will be used to collect the images of the boosting rocket. The TSP was developed by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) of San Diego, California under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The secondary payload is a Laser Communications Terminal (LCT) which will be used to evaluate the utility of laser communications for missile defense applications. The LCT was developed by Tesat-Spacecom and is provided by the German government as part of a cooperative agreement between the United States and Germany.

Two more NFIREs are under construction. Spectrum Astro of Gilbert, Ariz., will build up to three satellites for the program under a contract won through an MDA call for innovative missile defense concepts.

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