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March 13th, 2012
On-Demand Satellite Imagery Envisioned for Frontline Warfighters

“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, DARPA program manager. “To create inexpensive, easily manufacturable small satellites costing $500K apiece will require leveraging existing non-traditional aerospace off-the-shelf technologies for rapid manufacturing, such as the mobile phone industry’s original design manufacturers, as well as developing advanced technologies for optics, power, propulsion and communications to keep size and weight down.”

DARPA hosts a Proposers’ Day on Mar. 27. The following technology areas and non-traditional space communities are sought for the SeeMe program:

  • Rapid, low-cost manufacturing technologies (mobile phone industry original design manufacturers)
  • Propulsion technology (automobile racing industry nitrous oxide high-pressure cold gas technology)
  • Solid state components (industrial machinery electronics components)
  • Valve technology (medical pneumatic valve industry)
  • Advanced optics (developers of non-traditional RF membranes and visual apertures)

The SeeMe constellation may consist of some two-dozen satellites, each lasting 60-90 days in a very low-earth orbit before de-orbiting and completely burning up, leaving no space debris and causing no re-entry hazard. The program may leverage DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, which is developing an aircraft-based satellite launch platform for payloads on the order of 100 lbs. ALASA seeks to provide low-cost, rapid launch of small satellites into any required orbit, a capability not possible today from fixed ground launch sites.