By Jason B. Cutshaw, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Public AffairsAugust 1, 2017
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- One U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command team is preparing for an out of this world product launch.
The USASMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center's Kestrel Eye is a small, low-cost, visible-imagery satellite designed to provide images rapidly to the tactical-level ground Warfighter. Kestrel Eye is scheduled to be launched to the International Space Station as a payload aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in mid-August as part of the ISS cargo resupply mission, SpaceX CRS-12.
"This is exciting; we have been waiting a long time," said Wheeler "Chip" Hardy, Kestrel Eye program manager, SMDC Tech Center's Space and Strategic Systems Directorate. "The program began around 2008, and this will be our first flight. This is very important and for the program to go forward, we need to have a successful demonstration. We are confident and have worked hard to ensure it will be successful."
The Kestrel Eye program hopes to demonstrate the military utility of providing rapid situational awareness directly to Army brigade combat teams. Kestrel Eye will enhance situational awareness of the brigade combat teams by providing satellite imagery without the need for conventional continental U.S.-based relays.
Once aboard the ISS, the crew will extract Kestrel Eye from the cargo capsule and deploy the small satellite to its orbit. Once deployed a safe distance away from the ISS, the satellite will power up automatically and be ready to receive signals from the ground station.
Once on-orbit, U.S. Pacific Command will be able to measure the utility of Kestrel Eye through a series of tactical exercises and in various scenarios such that an independent assessor can make a military utility evaluation. In addition, the satellite will participate in similar Army exercises in various locations. If the Kestrel Eye demonstration is successful, then transition plans will be fully developed.
"We will get to demonstrate what we can do for the Soldier on the ground," Hardy said. "That is what Kestrel Eye is about. Its purpose is to get information down to the Warfighter as rapidly as possible. Kestrel Eye's focus will be to get its information down to the lowest levels and support the troops in the foxholes.
"A benefit of having a constellation of Kestrel Eye satellites is that Warfighters have access to rapid information," Hardy said. "Kestrel Eye does not provide the high-quality images from larger assets but it makes up for it with quantity and turnaround speed."
Hardy said Kestrel Eye will be another tool to provide situational awareness data before starting an operation so that if conditions on the battlefield have changed Soldiers can adjust before the operation begins.
"A big advantage is the enemy never knows when it is overhead," Hardy said. "In comparison to other systems, foes won't be able to adjust what they are doing because they will never know when Kestrel Eye is in the area."
A key characteristics of Kestrel Eye is a microsatellite technology demonstrator weighing approximately 50 kg that is an electro-optical imaging satellite with tactically useful resolution. Kestrel Eye is considered a low-cost satellite, with a cost of less than $2 million per spacecraft in production mode, and will have an operational life of greater than one year in low earth orbit.
It is designed to be tactically responsive, with the ability to task and receive data from the satellite during an overhead pass and provide a measure of satellite persistence overhead that can provide situational awareness and images rapidly to the Warfighter.
"For the first time, the Warfighters on the battlefield will be able to request and have timely access to critical imaging information at the unit level," said Melinda Still, chief, SMDC Tech Center Space Division. "This demonstration will be a validation of the vision for the utilization of small satellite payloads to provide persistent situational awareness for the Warfighter."
The satellite will help Army forces possess capabilities and be prepared to fight across multiple domains. Kestrel Eye is designed to continue American supremacy as rivals innovate and leverage technology.
If successful, a Kestrel Eye satellite constellation would provide dramatically lower unit cost than typical space-based assets. With this low cost, large numbers of satellites can be procured enabling the system to be dedicated to the tactical Warfighter.
"The Kestrel Eye team is outstanding. They have addressed program issues head on, adjusted and persevered. We are so proud of our team," Still said. "We are very excited. This is a first in many ways: the first launch in fiscal year 2017; first launch to and deployment from the ISS; and first asset utilizing technology developed and tested in-house in SMDC's labs using the Kestrel Eye Ground Station and Kestrel Eye Warfighter Assisting Low-Earth Orbit Tracker."