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TRW Awarded $743-Million Satellite Order

July 31, 1987|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | Times Staff Writer

The Air Force has awarded a $743-million contract to TRW for the Defense Support Program, a satellite system designed to detect and provide early warning in the event that intercontinental nuclear missiles are launched at targets in the United States, the company announced Thursday.

The contract covers production of five satellites over a six-year period. TRW, headquartered in Cleveland, said the price would normally cover the cost of four satellites, but that the government was able to obtain an additional satellite at effectively no extra cost because it placed a multiyear order.

TRW has been producing the DSP satellites in Redondo Beach since the late 1960s. Recent models have featured increased capability and uninterrupted coverage of key missile sites.

Data Transmitted

The satellites, which operate in geosynchronous orbit 22,500 miles above Earth, use infrared sensors attached to powerful telescopes. They scan large regions of the Soviet Union and the oceans to detect the heat generated by exhaust plumes as rockets are launched.

Within seconds, the data is transmitted to the North American Air Defense Command headquarters, buried underneath Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado.

The DSP satellites are among the most enigmatic of the U.S. space systems because of the Air Force's changing approach on what information to release about the program.

At one time, the Air Force released a photograph of the satellite that appeared in 1985 on the cover of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. Such photographs are now considered classified.

Similarly, the Air Force has periodically announced orders for the satellites, but it considers as classified the total number of satellites that have been purchased. TRW is permitted to say only that it employs "hundreds" of workers on the program.

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