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Pentagon seeks cheap, disposable satellites to observe battlefields

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency lab plans to launch a fleet of disposable satellites to provide images for troops fighting on the ground.

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Ordinary U.S. troops can only dream of on-demand battlefield images from the U.S. military's limited fleet of satellites. That spurred the Pentagon to envision swarms of cheap, disposable satellites that can give small squads of soldiers or Special Forces the latest battlefield images on their mobile phones or tablet computers.

The military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) research lab aims to launch about two dozen satellites — each costing about $500,000 — for missions lasting 60 to 90 days in low-Earth orbit. Such satellites would not only launch cheaply from aircraft rather than ground-based rocket launch pads, but could also de-orbit at the end of their mission lifetime and burn up safely in the Earth's atmosphere.

"We envision a constellation of small satellites, at a fraction of the cost of airborne systems, that would allow deployed warfighters overseas to hit 'see me' on existing handheld devices and in less than 90 minutes receive a satellite image of their precise location to aid in mission planning," said Dave Barnhart, program manager for DARPA.

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