Army Nanosatellite Program receives first units

By John Cummings, USASMDC/ARSTRATApril 29, 2009

Dr. Steven Messervy, U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command deputy to the commander for Research, Development and Acquisition, left, and Ivy Pinion, senior vice president of Miltec Corporation, a Ducommun company, shake ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. Aca,!" The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command took delivery of eight four-kilogram satellites at the end of a one-year contract effort on April 28. The first of the SMDC-ONE nanosatellites will be placed into orbit in 2009 and the remaining seven at a later date.

Aca,!A"This marks a real milestone for the Army,Aca,!A? said Dr. Steven Messervy, deputy to the commander for Research, Development and Acquisition, USASMDC/ARSTRAT at Redstone Arsenal.

The SMDC-ONE satellites each weigh less than 10 pounds and are about 10x10x32 centimeters or approximately 4x4x13 inches in size.

Each of these nanosatellites can be placed into a Low Earth Orbit to receive data files from a ground command and control center. The ground station for the first SMDC-ONE demonstration will be at USASMDC/ARSTRAT on Redstone Arsenal. The primary objective will be to receive data from a ground transmitter and relay that data to a ground station. The intent of this technology demonstration is to build a number of identical satellites and deploy them together into Low Earth Orbit to simulate enhanced tactical communications capability and evaluate nanosat performance.

Messervy stated that USASMDC/ARSTRAT Commander Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell had announced the nanosatellite program goals at a meeting of the National Space Society in April, 2008. Satellites traditionally take many years to develop and cost billions of dollars, but these were produced in under a year at less then $1 million each.

Aca,!A"These are technology demonstrators, not an operational capability, that we hope will someday lead to an operational capability," said Nanosatellite technology manager and SMDC-ONE program manager John London, of the USASMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center. Aca,!A"The cost estimate to integrate, test and prepare for flight for each satellite is in the 150-200k range,Aca,!A? London continued.

One message that London has is that these are pretty robust pieces of hardware and USASMDC/ARSTRAT IS display them in an open room to the public today because they do not have to be in a Aca,!A"white roomAca,!A? setting. Because these are communications satellites and there are no optical elements on them, a Aca,!A"white roomAca,!A? is not necessary to protect the optics on a satellite.

To better meet warfighter needs, USASMDC/ARSTRAT is considering mission enabling upgrade features for future nanosatellites to include on-board GPS capability for greater on-board autonomy, addition of a S-band communications link for increased data transmission, inclusion of a software defined radio for greater transceiver frequency flexibility, and modification of the communications element (radio) to increase available volume for payloads.

To achieve enhanced capabilities for the warfighter from space, an approach that holds great promise is the deployment of constellations of nanosat-class satellites into Low Earth Orbit. Because the unit cost for a nanosat is lower (less than $1M), large numbers for each specific mission could be built and deployed. What a nanosat may lack in performance and reliability when compared on a per-unit basis to a large traditional military satellite, it makes up by its low cost and potential for a persistent presence over given theaters of operation through constellation proliferation.

A nanosat constellation populated by inexpensive spacecraft could be useful in humanitarian support, stability and support operations and nation building. If some satellites are lost, they could be rapidly reconstituted. Nanosats can provide coverage across specific regions, as well as, globally. The use of nanosats in such a fashion will enable UAV-like performance for communication from spaceborne assets that can provide data directly into theaters of operation.

Related Links:

STAND-TO! SMDC-ONE Technology Demonstration