U.S. Army Lobs a Bunch of Tiny Satellites Into Orbit

Three new nanosats 'functioning well'

U.S. Army Lobs a Bunch of Tiny Satellites Into Orbit U.S. Army Lobs a Bunch of Tiny Satellites Into Orbit
Military satellites used to come in one flavor — big, expensive and long-lived. As in, billion-dollar spacecraft the size of school buses remaining in... U.S. Army Lobs a Bunch of Tiny Satellites Into Orbit

Military satellites used to come in one flavor — big, expensive and long-lived. As in, billion-dollar spacecraft the size of school buses remaining in orbit a decade or more.

But that’s changing. More and more, spacefaring armed forces are switching to tiny, shoebox-size “nanosatellites” or “cubesats” — named for their box shape — that they can develop in months, buy for a few hundred thousand dollars and boost several-at-a-time into low orbit for custom missions lasting a couple years.

The idea is that it’s better to have a bunch of small, short-lived satellites than a few long-lasting ones representing a single point of failure — although, in practice, most countries will end up with a mix of big and small sats, as the small ones don’t really work in high, stationary orbits.

Plus, small sats give you an opportunity to customize spacecraft for very specific — and brief, even — missions. Need a special communications satellite for a particular Special Operation Forces foray into some remote mountain range? Cubesats make that affordable.

Catching on to the concept, China recently sent a startling 20 small sats into orbit atop a single rocket. Now the U.S. Army is experimenting with tiny spacecraft.

Cubesats. NASA photo

Cubesats. NASA photo

 

The official statement:

Three Army nanosatellites sent into space aboard an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on Oct. 8 are working fine, the Army nanosatellite team reports. …

 

“We were really excited that we made contact on the first orbit that two of the satellites made over Redstone Arsenal [in Alabama] on the day they were launched, [said Jon Dodson, chief engineer for the program.] “It was the following day that we had contact with the third satellite.” …

 

The mission objectives for the nanosatellites include successfully demonstrating beyond-line-of-sight voice and data relay and data exfiltration of unattended ground sensors. Other supporting technologies such as encryption and propulsion will also be demonstrated. The demonstration introduces operational concepts utilizing this new technology to solve important military problems and facilitates technology transition.


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