By Jason Cutshaw (SMDC/ARSTRAT)October 9, 2018
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama - If you are looking for a demonstration on exceeding expectations, you need look no further than Kestrel Eye.
The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center's Kestrel Eye reached end of life in late August. As a Science and Technology demonstration, Kestrel Eye provided USASMDC/ARSTRAT vital data and crucial lessons learned for supporting future Army small satellite programs.
"Kestrel Eye was deployed into low-earth orbit in October 2017 and remained on orbit for more than 10 months," said Wheeler "Chip" Hardy, Kestrel Eye program director. "The original estimate was six months. The Kestrel Eye team however, managed to prolong its life to nearly double this original expectation."
Hardy added that the Kestrel Eye demonstrator met the command's objectives and will be used to inform further Army small-satellite developments
"This science and technology program did exactly what an S&T program should, in that it has provided invaluable lessons learned for any future imaging small satellite program," he said.
Kestrel Eye lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Aug. 14, 2017, and deployed Oct. 24.
It was a small, low-cost, visible-imagery satellite the size of a small refrigerator and weighed approximately 50 kg. SMDC engineers designed the satellite to provide electro-optical imagery at a tactically useful resolution and to give Warfighters on the ground the ability to directly task and receive data as it passed overhead.
The SMDC team made the Kestrel Eye platform entirely of commercial off-the-shelf and custom-produced components.
"A large part of the original concept was to investigate if a less expensive, small satellite could provide useful information," Hardy said. "From that viewpoint, Kestrel Eye performed well and provided rapid, reliable responses with tactically useful imagery.
"Kestrel Eye's cost is not the only factor to consider," he added. "Other equally important factors are timeliness of response and the classification of the image collected. Because the service 'owns' the satellite, the brigade commander would have confidence that an image would be provided when it was needed."
During its lifetime, the Kestrel Eye demonstrator provided SMDC's young engineers and Soldiers who operated the satellite with hands-on satellite experience. They designed and built much of the ground system, operated the ground-station antennas, commanded the imaging microsatellite, and manned the associated operations center.
"My experience working on Kestrel Eye was great," said Dr. Matthew Hitt, SMDC Technical Center general engineer. "It was a good team to work with, and the opportunities and learning potential were beneficial. I learned a lot about satellite orbits, modeling and satellite operations. I also learned about all the subsystems that compose a satellite and the technical challenges associated with them."
Kestrel Eye recently participated in the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration, or JCTD, with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. The demonstration results were evaluated by joint and combatant command Warfighters to determine how well Kestrel Eye could satisfy their needs. Images taken by Kestrel Eye served as the JCTD operational demonstration to enable the Warfighters to comment on future possibilities.
"The chief item we learned from Kestrel Eye is that the concept to provide the Warfighter with rapid situational awareness at a reasonable cost has validity," Hardy said. "Heeding lessons learned from the Kestrel Eye demonstrator will enable other SMDC small-satellite science and technology efforts to have an increased chance of success.
"The demonstrator has been a trailblazer for Army imaging from a microsatellite," he added. "It has shown beneficial tactical capabilities from space, which could represent a new tool for the tactical commander."