Space-based Kill Assessment (SKA)

- , June 2018


Mobility Space-based sensors hosted on commercial satellites
Role Sensors to detect, measure, and assess kinetic kill
Status Network of sensors deployed
Producer John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory


Space-based Kill Assessment (SKA) sensors are currently in development at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. These sensors will be hosted aboard commercial satellites and placed into orbit to provide improved hit and kill assessment, the determination of whether a threat missile has been eliminated by a missile defense interceptor, for the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). Current plans call for deployment of numerous SKA sensors to create a space-based sensor network that will improve kill assessment and increase the efficiency of the BMDS.[1]

Once in orbit, SKA sensors will provide accurate and timely kill assessment data to missile defense command and control nodes. Ultimately, this improved kill assessment capability will reduce the number of interceptors needed to neutralize a ballistic missile threat, cutting costs for interceptors and improving situational awareness regarding an incoming threat.

Each SKA sensor consists of three single-pixel photodiode detectors that measure electro-optical signatures emitted during collisions between ballistic missiles and missile defense interceptors.[2] Using information provided by command and control, SKA sensors will point towards an expected intercept point to observe the visible and infrared light produced by the collision of intercept.[3] Information attained during intercept include kill assessment, type of threat warhead (i.e. nuclear, high-explosive, chemical, or biological), and post-collision lethality of threat warhead.[4]

The SKA experiment was initiated following a mandate in the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) calling for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to address hit and kill assessment for the BMDS, specifically for testing of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system.[5] In April 2014, MDA began the SKA experiment.[6] The network of SKA sensors put in orbit by the end of 2018 and are expected to remain operational for more than 10 years.[7] SKA sensors initially will be operated by the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, however, operational command eventually will transition to the Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[8]