The space-based infrared system GEO-5 satellite (Lockheed Martin Photo)

A Northrop Grumman [NOC] and Ball Aerospace [BLL] team are on track to complete critical design review (CDR) for the team’s proposed infrared mission payload next May as part of the U.S. Space Force’s Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next Gen OPIR) Geosynchronous (GEO) Block 0 program, Northrop Grumman said on June 24.

Raytheon [RTN] is building the other proposed infrared mission payload for Block 0.

Next May is the scheduled CDR for the two infrared mission payloads, while next September is the scheduled CDR for the overall system, including the space vehicle, according to Northrop Grumman. Defense Daily had reported earlier this month that November was the targeted CDR date for the overall system.

Next-Gen OPIR is to provide better missile warning capabilities than the current Lockheed Martin [LMT] Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS), and Next-Gen OPIR’s first block of satellites will include five space vehicles, three in geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) and two in polar orbit.

The Space Force said on May 22 that it had completed preliminary design reviews (PDRs) for the Northrop Grumman-Ball Aerospace infrared mission payload and the Raytheon infrared mission payload. Next-Gen OPIR prime contractor Lockheed Martin chose the two teams to deliver one payload each to fly on the first two of three planned satellites under the Next-Gen OPIR Geosynchronous Earth Orbiting (GEO) satellite program, also known as NGG.

Air Force Col. Daniel Walter, Next Generation OPIR Space Segment program manager, said in a statement last month that the two preliminary design reviews were successful and demonstrated “that the competing NGG mission payload contractors will provide the critical missile warning performance required for our nation to operate in a contested space environment.”

On June 24, Bob Mehltretter, vice president of military and civil space for Northrop Grumman, said in a statement that “the subsystem and payload designs meet key mission performance requirements and support the national security imperative of launching the initial Next-Gen GEO mission payload.”

A payload downselect between Raytheon and the Northrop Grumman/Ball team will occur following the CDR. One of those two teams will also be competitively selected to build an additional payload to fly on the third satellite, according to Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC).

The Air Force requested $2.3 billion in research-and-development funding in the fiscal year 2021 presidential budget request.

Space Force, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Space Development Agency (SDA) officials are considering what changes are needed for Next Gen OPIR Block 1 in the fiscal 2022 Program Objective Memorandum, or POM, budgeting tool. Such changes could include a hybrid constellation, although officials have suggested that such a constellation would likely delay fielding.