DARPA are said to be looking into the possibility of using cheap, disposable satellites to provide reconnaissance and data to soldiers. The satellites would be deployable with the “press of a button”. The idea is to provide backup when existing satellites would not be in position, or would take too long to re-align. Still, DARPA’s idea of “cheap” might differ from everyone else’s.
DARPA are hoping that the satellites, aimed to cost around $500,000 each, would allow crucial mapping information to be sent in less than 90 minutes. In a statement, the agency said:
We envision a constellation of small satellites, at a fraction of the cost of airborne systems, that would allow deployed warfighters 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.
Right now, the plan consists of 24 satellites that would be able to stay in Earth’s low orbit for around two to three months before burning up on re-entry. DARPA say the plan would require manufacturers to take advantage of rapid production techniques currently used in the smartphone industry.
Right now the U.S Military makes use of unmanned drones in order to provide reconnaissance, although DARPA argues that drones cannot cover large areas of land without extensive refueling. The other problem is that there simply aren’t enough drones to go around to all the armed forces, and bandwidth requirements makes it difficult to get images back to the front line. DARPA have invited manufacturers to discuss the plan, and have organized a “Proposers Day” on March 27th.