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DARPA wants swarms of "disposable" satellites to provide almost-live images on demand

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March 13, 2012

SeeMe would provide eyes in the sky quickly to troops on the ground (Image: DARPA)

SeeMe would provide eyes in the sky quickly to troops on the ground (Image: DARPA)

DARPA, the United States' defense technology research agency that's created such notable projects as the Internet you're using right this moment, is now looking for help in creating a swarm of "disposable" eyes in the sky. It is seeking technical assistance from a wide range of fields - from auto racing to optics - to create the means to provide on-demand satellite imagery for troops on the front lines.

The agency's SeeMe program (Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements) aims to achieve what currently available military and commercial satellites cannot - near real-time satellite images of an area that could be used to plan military missions from the field.

"We envision a constellation of small satellites ... 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," said Dave Barnhart, DARPA program manager.

Barnhart says they're hoping to be able to create the small satellites quickly and for a cost of around US$500,000 each, which is why the agency is reaching out to other industries for help.

"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 hopes to bring together this cadre of experts for a meeting on the project later this month.

Currently, the agency envisions each "SeeMe constellation" of satellites consisting of about two-dozen small satellites, each with a lifespan of 2-3 months in a very low-earth orbit. They would then re-enter the atmosphere and burn up without leaving any debris, according to DARPA.

It's also possible the small satellites could actually be launched from aircraft, allowing for the rapid deployment DARPA hopes to facilitate with SeeMe. Another of the agency's projects, Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA), is designed to provide low-cost, quick launches of small satellites into any required orbit.

Source: DARPA

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack
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9 Comments

Nowhere to hide. And who's watching? WASPs with guns :-D

Aloysius
14th March, 2012 @ 06:18 am PDT

So they finally came around to using the old NIRTS Sat idea from Dale Brown's novels. NIRTS Sats were Need-It-Right-This-Second Satellites. Cheap, limited-use satellites missile launched from a modified B-52 at high altitude.

Cdog
14th March, 2012 @ 10:07 am PDT

Big Brother is slowly but surely closing in on us. Pretty soon we won't be able to pass a fart in the wind without Big Brother knowing. It's disgusting the direction that our government has taken.

daniela.josanu
14th March, 2012 @ 11:35 am PDT

seriously? It's unlikely they would launch just one satellite at a time, and I would not call half a million dollars cheap! seriously, there should probably be a contest open to the public to build the cheapest disposable satellite with a suitable camera.

Benjamin Clements
14th March, 2012 @ 04:04 pm PDT

"re-enter the atmosphere and burn up without leaving any debris" So they will totally vapourise will they.

I doubt it. More likely they will break up into small particles and then rain down to earth. I woudn't like to breath in any of those microscopic particles that would be left over. They don't consider the adverse health problems that they would be causing from continually sending these things into orbit.

Foxy1968
14th March, 2012 @ 07:01 pm PDT

I'm pretty sure this is called SkyNet.

And seriously we can't come up with something less disposable or less expensive or both?

David Storfer
14th March, 2012 @ 07:19 pm PDT

re; Cdog

Actually the mother ship was a a modified DC-10.

Slowburn
15th March, 2012 @ 07:03 am PDT

re; Benjamin Clements

To give constant overhead imaging you need to launch whole constellations of satellites.

Slowburn
15th March, 2012 @ 06:19 pm PDT

The pentagon psychopaths won't be happy until there is a implant up everyone's butt with them holding the remote detonate switch.

America has to get it's psychos under control they run the entire country.

RealityBites
26th March, 2012 @ 08:15 am PDT
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