Raytheon to build low-orbit, disposable satellites for DARPA
Battlefield viewing from the edge of space
The fighter-deployed satellites in DARPA's latest plan - which will deploy them in orbits so low they burn up in a month - will be built by Raytheon, which reckons it can do the job for $2m a pop.
SeeMe* was announced last March, as an intermediate step between surveillance drones, which have limited airtime, and spy satellites which are rarely in the right place. The idea is to launch 24 of the SeeMe birds in an orbit which overflies the battleground every 90 minutes, burning up a month or two later when the mission has been accomplished.
The satellites themselves will weigh less than 12kg and be about the size of a cylindrical wheelie bin, and will only cost half a million dollars each. Getting them into orbit will be a little more expensive, Raytheon puts that at $1m a time based on the shiny-new Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) platform currently being developed by DARPA.
ALASA actually aims to get launch costs down to that figure for four times the weight of a SeeMe bird but Raytheon is assuming individual launches and perhaps being a little conservative.
So launching 24 of them is going to cost $36m, which seems like a lot of money but would only buy a handful of Predator drones (at $4m a time) or a fraction of manned observation platform, even if neither of those burn up after use.
Not that 24 satellites are necessary, that just ensures that one turns up every hour and a half. Fewer satellites would give equal quality just with a longer waiting time on the ground. But at least they'll be no intermediary stalling the images, as central to the project is direct communication with the troops.
The project starts with six prototypes, which won't be launched but will test their ability to capture and transmit images, and survive the ALASA launch process. There's no huge hurry, ALASA won't complete testing until 2015 but once the bits come together the USA will be able to throw up a satellite network all but instantly, wherever they decide to have a war. ®
* SeeMe, we're told, stands for "Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements", demonstrating that DARPA remains master of the backronym.
Re: $48M a Pop
Though if it saves lives money should not matter."
Hahahah. Save lives. Good one.
No bid from LOHAN?
flexible launch platform, check (anywhere Lester's car can get but not too far from lunch. Wars in Spain get preferential discounts)...
Orbital capability, check (d'oh! It's right there in the name!)
Of course a bit later on you'll have to have one of THOSE awkward conversations, but providing you emphasise how often defense procurements fall short of goals, how oft we stumble when first we reach for the stars, and especially how much your Board of Directors would benefit from the expertise of recently retired congressmen and generals it'll go fine!
Re: Where will they be tested?
If the Israelis can stop that itchy trigger finger then Iran would pass for a testing range in a nearly suitable timescale.
But your suggestion that "current wars are winding down" seems to ignore the palpable delight of polticians and military everywhere that AQ in Africa are now The Threat Of Tomorrow (tm). Renowned British simpleton David Cameron has announced that this not-yet-started war will last thirty years (although what military assets he thinks he'll contribute to this new and exciting party, who knows). I'm sure some US military types are hankering to go back and bomb the dung out of Mogadishu, and there's a whole host of other poor, sub-Saharan African countries just waiting to be bombed.