In September the military will launch 8 mini-satellites from Wallops Island aboard a Minotaur rocket as part of a project to support Special Operations Command (SOCOM) troops in the field.
The eight satellites, each about the size of a water jug, will sit more than 300 miles above the earth and provide a new way for SOCOM to track targets marked by troops on the ground, according to Danger Room.
This isn’t SOCOM’s first mini-satellite. In December of 2010, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket put into orbit a $25,000 special operations spacecraft small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. The satellite stayed more than 170 miles up for about a month. But that first flight was mostly a proof of concept that something so cheap and small could have any military value at all. (“Just to test the theory that we could do it,” Douglas Richardson, SOCOM’s executive in charge of Special Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Exploitation Technologies, explained in 2011.)
The Operationally Responsive Space-3 mission will carry eight satellites for SOCOM (plus another 20 for other government agencies). This array of configurable “cubesats” is designed to stay aloft for three years or more. Yes, it will serve as further research project. But “operators are going to use it,” Richardson promised an industry conference in Tampa last week. His presentation showed a cubesat under the heading “tagging, tracking, and locating.”
Payload from Wallops Island launch burns up as it returns to earth (Video)
NASA releases images from smartphones launched into space from Wallops Island
Wallops Island rocket launch a success