It’s another sign of how increasingly capable small satellites are finding their way into an array of private and government applications, including commercial imaging, scientific missions and broadband internet access.
A network of tiny satellites as small as dorm-room refrigerators could one day give military troops on the ground a real-time look at what’s lurking over the next hill.
The first of these satellites, known as Kestrel Eye, will be launched Monday morning aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket loaded with NASA supplies for the International Space Station.
If this demonstration is successful, the U.S. Army eventually could send a few dozen more satellites to low-Earth orbit. It’s another sign of how increasingly capable small satellites are finding their way into an array of private and government applications, including commercial imaging, scientific missions and broadband internet access.
Already, San Francisco-based Planet operates a small-satellite network to capture images of Earth, while Boeing, OneWeb and SpaceX are planning so-called constellations of satellites to provide broadband internet access.
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Now the military is joining in.
With Kestrel Eye — named after a small, sharp-eyed falcon — troops about to embark on a mission could go to a ground station and use a laptop that connects to a portable and lightweight antenna to pull up images of an area. The real-time information could tell them whether their plans need to be adjusted — if a previously empty field is now filled with vehicles, for instance.
Kestrel Eye images won’t be as high-quality as those from a larger military satellite, which can capture specific details such as faces or vehicle license-plate numbers. With Kestrel Eye, troops will be able to see large vehicles like tanks or cars.
But for fighters on the ground, speed can trump detail.
“It’s all about trying to get information down to that low-level tactical warfighter rapidly,” said Chip Hardy, Kestrel Eye program manager at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
Larger military satellites can provide area imagery, but with slower turnaround time because they often are tasked with many missions, said Bill Ostrove, aerospace and defense analyst at Forecast International.
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