By Cindy McCoy (SMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center)August 1, 2013
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Nanosatellites designed by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command and launched into orbit in September continue to provide usable data that will ultimately help meet the U.S. Army's growing need for space-based resources that support Warfighters.
The two SMDC-Operational Nanosatellite Effect, or SMDC-ONE, satellites are very small and inexpensive satellites that have been enabled largely by the revolution in consumer hand-held electronic devices. They were launched as auxiliary payloads on National Reconnaissance Office Launch 36 aboard an ATLAS V rocket to allow for testing. The auxiliary payload mission was termed Operationally Unique Technology Satellite, or OUTSat, for these secondary satellites sponsored by the National Reconnaissance Office.
The primary mission for the SMDC-ONEs, named Able and Baker, was to demonstrate voice relay through a low-earth orbit satellite using military standard radios, which had never been done before.
"Interoperability with standard issue military radios will likely be a necessity for future military satellite communication systems," said John London, program manager for nanosatellite development at SMDC. "Able and Baker were the first SMDC-ONE spacecraft to have the ability to support over-the-horizon voice relay, and the first nanosatellites capable of working with military standard tactical radios."
Space capabilities can help reduce the required Soldier tactical footprint in the operating area. According to London, microsatellite and nanosatellite technology can help fill urgent needs responsively and at a relatively low cost.
"These small satellite constellation capabilities do not exist today but are achievable with current technology," London said. "We believe that success in these demonstrations will serve as a catalyst for the fielding of an innovative, effective, and highly affordable means of providing space-based capabilities necessary to achieve beyond-line-of-sight data communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities across the tactical battlespace."
To develop and leverage next-generation technology, the Technical Center set forth a program to develop, demonstrate and assess low-cost satellite systems that enable all types of data communications support to tactical forces. As part of this program, and to meet the U.S. Army's need for space-based resources, the SMDC-ONE nanosatellite program was initiated in April 2008 and completed in one year.
The maiden launch of an SMDC-ONE occurred in December 2010 as a secondary payload aboard a Falcon 9 booster test flight to the International Space Station. This initial launch demonstrated the nanosatellite platform's capability to support data extraction from unattended ground sensors and spacecraft command and control via man-portable ground stations.
"This platform was modified prior to the OUTSat mission to have the capacity for voice relay between terrestrial tactical radios," said Lt. Col. Patrick Marshall, SMDC's JCTD portfolio manager.
"Demonstrating this voice relay capability was the primary mission. "
"On-orbit operations with these spacecraft have been conducted with tactical users in mind," Marshall continued. "The operational test results fall into three main categories: unattended ground sensors, tactical radios, and command and control ground stations."
London said they have learned a lot from SMDC-ONEs.
"The successes of these satellites are a technical risk reduction for SMDC's next generations of small operational prototype spacecraft," London said. "The results of the on-orbit testing with Able and Baker have provided valuable data that will significantly assist in the creation of an operational spacecraft."
According to London, much of the test results from OUTSat are already being incorporated into the design of the next generation of SMDC nanosatellites.
"Ground operations for Able and Baker have provided an opportunity to work out operational concepts before more advanced nanosatellites are deployed," he said. "This next generation will be a prototype of the first operational nanosatellite that the U.S. Army could deploy and field."