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The Military Technology

Pentagon Wants Disposable War Satellites 120

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-thought-we-were-past-the-disposable-camera-fad dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has invited manufacturers to propose squads of disposable mini-satellites costing about $500,000 each, capable of providing reconnaissance to soldiers at the press of a button. 'We envision a constellation of small satellites, at a fraction of the cost of airborne systems, that would allow deployed warfighters to hit "see me" on existing handheld devices and in less than 90 minutes receive a satellite image of their precise location to aid in mission planning,' says the agency. The U.S. Army already has access to drone aircraft to provide intelligence from the skies, and last year they announced that new helicopter-style machines equipped with 1.8 gigapixel cameras will soon go into service in Afghanistan. However, DARPA says such unmanned aircraft cannot cover extended territory without frequent refuelling. The SeeMe constellation will consist of some two-dozen satellites, each lasting 60-90 days in a very low-earth orbit before de-orbiting and completely burning up, leaving no space debris and causing no re-entry hazard. 'With a SeeMe constellation, we hope to directly support warfighters in multiple deployed overseas locations simultaneously with no logistics or maintenance costs beyond the warfighters' handhelds,' says program manager Dave Barnhart."
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Pentagon Wants Disposable War Satellites

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  • Expensive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @08:11AM (#39362575)

    $500,000 per satellite with a 2-3 month life? Pretty expensive. Does that include the cost of launching it too?

    • by Magada (741361)

      Wanna talk costs? This is a re-purposed FOBS [wikipedia.org].

      Imagine how expensive it would (will?) be for other nuclear nations to track these launches and determine if they should start nuclear Armageddon or not.

      I can only see this being used in a shooting war with China or Russia.

      • by Bomazi (1875554)

        They are over 100 launches per year and over 8000 objects being tracked in Earth orbit, including about 500 active satellites. So having a few dozen additional satellites in orbit at any given time will not make tracking any more difficult than it already is.

        As for the weapon bit, these satellite would be no more likely to be weapons than any other. Given their low number I don't see how this would make other nations uneasy. Plus deterrence works you know.

    • Re:Expensive (Score:5, Insightful)

      by shortscruffydave (638529) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @08:18AM (#39362617)
      If you look at how much it costs to drop a Tomahawk missile onto a target then this could start to look more cost effective. If good satellite imagery/intel can point you more accurately onto where the bad guys are, then maybe you only need one missile instead of two or three if you're not so sure where your target is. Still not small beer, but it's all relative.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fredrated (639554)

        We don't even know who the 'bad guys' are when they are sitting next to us, how the hell are we going to tell them from low earth orbit?
        Besides, what good does it do when we are the bad guys? Do we start shooting ourselves? (Might actually be a good idea).

      • by TheLink (130905)
        Sometimes it costs even more to hit the wrong target ;)
      • You guys really need to get rid of this obtuse good-guy/bad-guy indoctrination.

        Real life is not a hollywood movie.

    • Re:Expensive (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 15, 2012 @08:20AM (#39362621)

      $500,000 per satellite with a 2-3 month life? Pretty expensive. Does that include the cost of launching it too?

      Its not expensive at all even considering other "normal" military hardware.
      For instance the phoenix missile carried onboard the F-14s cost 500 000 dollars each or a HARM missile can cost up to 900 000 $.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How much can that satellite save is the question. It doesn't have to save much in the way of life and materials to offset its own costs.

      • by zlives (2009072)
        in other news... "Satellites to save upwards of 50 gallons of fuel(gasoline not rocket fuel) per deployment"
    • by Shavano (2541114)

      It could if they launched them with a big batch on each rocket, the way unis do with cubesats.

    • It seems to me that another and even cheaper solution to the problem of long-duration flight is being ignored. Just combine a balloon for lift with propellers for movement. Because most of the need for fuel goes into keeping it aloft --use the balloon for that part. The good old zeppelin shape can reduce the effect of wind on it (not that it needs to be very large, for a reconnaissance drone). And if the balloon was transparent plastic, it would be harder to see from the ground.
      • Paint it something like sky blue or gray and it'll be even more difficult to see than transparent plastic, plus you're not limited to using materials that are transparent.

      • by JBMcB (73720)

        The only problem with that is now you have to deal with balloons or zeppelins falling all over the place - possibly into enemy hands to be re-used. They can also be detected, so the enemy knows when to duck and cover.

        Satellites (especially micro-satellites) are difficult to detect without sophisticated gear, and when they are done you can de-orbit them and they'll burn up in the atmosphere.

      • by decsnake (6658)
        they already use those. Mostly used over FOBs and larger bases
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by M. Baranczak (726671)

        How about this one: stop invading other countries just for the hell of it. I bet that would reduce the expenses.

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      A mere billion dollars a year gets you 2000 of them. Or, with that short orbital life, 500 on-the-job sky at any time. But they'd only be useful on Arras where it's not cloudy a lot. No using them to spy on Seattle.

    • Re:Expensive (Score:5, Interesting)

      by daem0n1x (748565) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @08:40AM (#39362697)
      No problem, cut the education and health care budgets to finance this. Things that matter should go first!
      • Re:Expensive (Score:4, Insightful)

        by khallow (566160) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @12:40PM (#39365919)

        No problem, cut the education and health care budgets to finance this. Things that matter should go first!

        Actually, this is a pretty good choice. These programs typically have negative value, harming the US by driving up the cost of education and health care. The military has a lot of things to cut as well. And health care and military spending covers two of the biggest items in the federal budget.

        • To add on to your point: Notice how the federal gov't didn't have the responsibilities of healthcare or education for the first 100~ years.

          On the other hand, it's always had the responsibility of protecting our country from foreign threats. It really shouldn't be that hard to discern which items should be a higher priority for our federal gov't.

          I can buy myself cough medicine and pay for a visit to my doctor.
          I can buy a book or search the internets to educate myself.
          I cannot buy myself a warplane or a w

          • by daem0n1x (748565)
            I'm sorry but your argument is quite retarded, for a number of reasons.

            the federal gov't didn't have the responsibilities of healthcare or education for the first 100~ years.

            Ah, the good ole times of generalised illiteracy and high mortality. How I miss them.

            it's always had the responsibility of protecting our country from foreign threats.

            If the troops are supposed to protect your country, what are they doing on the other side of the world fighting illiterate peasants that live in caves and bear 30 year old AK47s?

            I can buy myself cough medicine and pay for a visit to my doctor.

            You can, how good for you. Many can't. What about cancer treatment? Can you afford it?

            I can buy a book or search the internets to educate myself.

            You can, how good for you. Many can't.

            I cannot buy myself a warplane or a warship to defend against a foreign gov'ts army, or to fight and destroy terrorists overseas.

            You're comparing completely disproportionate things.

            • by khallow (566160)
              Typical tripe. All these services without a clue as to how you'll pay for them. My view is that if you want health care, education, or any other good that just so happens to benefit you selfishly, then you ought to break out your own wallet for it.

              You're comparing completely disproportionate things. If you can afford the doctor, why can't you afford a gun? If you can afford a hospital, why can't you afford an army?

              There are a few zeros of cost difference between going to the doctor and running your own aircraft carrier. And as the prior poster noted, will you complain just a little if I happen to run my own aircraft carrier and use it against enemies of the US as I see fit?

              • My view is that if you want health care, education, or any other good that just so happens to benefit you selfishly, then you ought to break out your own wallet for it.

                So, pray tell us, from a libertarian viewpoint, who is going to pay to drag the rotten corpses of people dying from disease or hunger off the public streets?

                Or let me guess: farmers will take care of it, using the bodies for fertilizer and thereby improving harvest. It's a win-win!

                • by khallow (566160)

                  So, pray tell us, from a libertarian viewpoint, who is going to pay to drag the rotten corpses of people dying from disease or hunger off the public streets?

                  If they're dying then they're not corpses yet. Nonproblem.

                  Also those people are that are "dying" could always buy food or health insurance so that they don't end up in that situation. And you could always give your money so that they aren't in that situation either. There are numerous solutions to this particular problem that don't require government.

            • Retarded? Try harder. You realize when talking about the US, that we have multiple levels of gov't? Local gov'ts are the ones responsible for dealing with problems of healthcare/education. Since local gov'ts can handle those problems according to the will of their communities, the federal gov't should stick to what it's good at - destroying things with an army of trained killers.

              Ah, the good ole times of generalised illiteracy and high mortality. How I miss them.

              In 1776, the US had a 95% literacy rate. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_was_the_literacy_rate_in_1776 [answers.com]

              Maybe *your* count

      • by zlives (2009072)
        can we use the homeless hotspot technology advancement to get a better "picture". I am sure deploying swarms of homeless people at 20 bucks a pop would be even more cost effective :)
    • by strack (1051390)
      if you combine that with a reusable falcon 9, much like what spacex announced they would be developing over the next few years, this starts to make more sense.
    • Public subsidy, private profits. Public death, private control. Nothing to see here, move along.

    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      Not to mention didn't we already spend a ton developing those huge wings that are supposed to be able to loiter for days or even weeks at a time using solar power? Between those, the drone planes, drone choppers, and actual manned craft this seems like just another excuse to cut the MIC a big fat check which when we are drowning in debt is the LAST thing we should be doing and if anything we should be cutting back. Cancel the F35, buy the stealth eagle instead, make the Ford the last carrier we buy for 20 y
    • Nonsense. That figure is way too low.

      And they need to be bigger.

      Whatever keeps them away from the airborne drones patrolling the homeland.

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      you are so funny. pointless war to line the pockets of military-industrial complex is very expensive for us and lucrative for them, why wouldn't we have disposable high tech gadgets. might as well belly up to the trough: allocate your 401K accordingly
  • Sounds familiar... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by icebrain (944107) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @08:15AM (#39362587)

    I think Dale Brown had something like this in some of his novels... called them NIRTSsats or something.

    • by Enry (630)

      Yep. Need It Right This Second Satellites.

      I figured the military already had these in operation. It's a pretty obvious and inexpensive concept.

  • With quite a few of these up at any one time (to cover a wide area), and with their locations likely classified to prevent external interference, isn't there a risk of these causing safety problems with rocket launches?

    • Re:Collision Risk? (Score:5, Informative)

      by necro81 (917438) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @08:24AM (#39362629) Journal
      The launch of a rocket isn't a secret, and the resulting orbit isn't, either. Even if the satellite makes an orbital change afterwards (unlikely, given the price and how expensive orbital maneuvers are), it's probably large enough to be trackable on radar. Even if it isn't clear what it is in the database (a spy satellite? a rocket fairing? ET?), those who care will know that it's there and can plan around it.
      • by khallow (566160)

        Even if the satellite makes an orbital change afterwards

        A routine operation which is typically done frequently for surveillance satellites, I might add.

        it's probably large enough to be trackable on radar

        What radar? Not every target has access to radar.

        Even if it isn't clear what it is in the database (a spy satellite? a rocket fairing? ET?), those who care will know that it's there and can plan around it.

        How do you plan around 100% coverage of your location? At $500k per satellite for 2-3 months of service, the US can easily afford full time coverage of the world (aside perhaps from the polar regions).

        • by dbIII (701233)

          A routine operation which is typically done frequently for surveillance satellites, I might add.

          Not if you want to keep on using them for more than a month or two. WTF is the fuel going to come from?
          "Expensive" in this case means expending limited the limited resources on board the satellite - and large orbital changes (eg. large changes in angle) require very large amounts of fuel, because, as the poster immediatly above has entirely forgotten, the velocities these devices travel at are very high.
          What is

          • by khallow (566160)
            You don't need large orbital changes. "tiny corrections" are more than sufficient to create substantial changes in schedules.
            • Here is what you replied to so please don't insult us by pretending otherwise.

              Even if the satellite makes an orbital change afterwards (unlikely, given the price and how expensive orbital maneuvers are)

              Now, to enlighten the above and others, a little bit of maths is required.
              While a vector is a high school concept it can be explained more simply as a triangle and I'm sure trigonometry turns up before high school even now. What the above poster has missed is that even a 10 degree change is not a "tiny corr

              • by khallow (566160)
                Yes, even a slight change in orbital speed leads to a large effective change in orbit phase. After all, if with a few hours of a light burn, you are on the other side of the planet than you would be without it, would you not consider that a major orbital change? Apparently so. I have the opposite opinion.

                Now imagine you have a couple dozen or so such satellites, each doing varying its schedule, orbital period, etc. Sure it would be possible to track them for countries like Russia or China. But even in th
                • by dbIII (701233)
                  I get it now. Your strawman cares if a satellite is overhead but they have no access to even a telescope so assume the survelience satellites stick to a printed timetable. Do they also use books of log tables instead of a pocket calculator?

                  After all, if with a few hours of a light burn

                  So, what do you do next year when the thing is out of fuel from a "few hours of a light burn" every couple of months? Teleport up some more fuel? Why spread such bullshit in the first place? What's the game? Is it to pre

    • To quote Doug Adams: "You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."

      Even near-Earth space. People worry about being hit by things falling from orbit, or hitting things up in orbit, but 10-50 meteorite falls occur every day (source: American Meteor Society) -- meteorites that are macroscopic, that is, since meteor dust is constantly drifting down everywhere from the millions o
  • Disposable, miniature satellites that provide communications relay and/or photographic coverage can be manufactured for closer to $5,000 a piece. What is DARPA thinking?

    • by JBMcB (73720)

      The military micro-sats are going to have military grade encryption, and the photographic gear those things use are a bit specialized. Think ultra-low f-stop, high-zoom aberration-free compact lenses.

  • by Taibhsear (1286214) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @09:00AM (#39362811)

    Only in the military can you label a $500,000 piece of equipment as "disposable"...

    • Heroes are "disposable". Serving the military of a free nation is as much of an honor as it is a sacrifice. Equally so.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        I'll agree with you when every member of congress offers up their children and grand children to stand in front of all the heros when we go to war. The rich need to pay the price of war before they ask the poor to do it.

      • Serving the military of a free nation is as much of an honor as it is a sacrifice. Equally so.

        Yeah, namely "not at all".

      • by kikito (971480)

        > Serving the military of a free nation is as much of an honor as it is a sacrifice

        What about a non-free nation?

        • Free nations are democratic. It's the people (civilians) whom elect their representatives whom in turn command the military. As a serviceman, your protecting your nation and its interests via the will of the people.

          Non-free nations are governed by a ruling body or person. However the structure may be, they don't reflect the will of the population. That's an important key distinction. As such, being as serviceman means that you're duty is to protect the regime first and foremost, not the people of the county

          • by kikito (971480)

            I question that the population votes reflect the will of the nation. You make it sound as if there are only two options: either democracy, or tyranny. But I see it more like an spectrum. It has to do with choice, and knowledge.

            Say I was given a choice: A blue button and a red button. I would not be told what hose buttons do. I would probably push the red one, because I like the color a bit more.

            Say the red button put a bullet on my head, and the red button filled the room with water and drowned me. Was I re

  • by CPTreese (2114124) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @09:01AM (#39362821) Journal

    I was in OIF 06-08 and I would have loved to have this intel a couple times. Once I was sent out to recover a vehicle that had been blown up, and due to terrain requirements, I had to take a road that hadn't been traveled on for some eight months. Consequently we didn't know it was heavily defended with IEDs and had huge ditches from rain runoff (pretty common in desert environments). It took my convoy about 24 hours to travel 5 kilometers because we had to improvise material to fill in the holes enough for the trucks to travel over. The satellite coverage wouldn't have helped with the IEDs but it might have helped give me a better idea of the road conditions.

    Another time I was leading a convoy of about 30 vehicles and the route I chose had been blocked by another unit the previous day. It can be an emotional event to turn around that many vehicles in some Iraqi towns.

    • by El Torico (732160)
      Would a UAV overflight provide the same intel?
      • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @09:35AM (#39363097) Homepage

        Yes it would have, giving teams like that their own private UAV to control and fly ahead so they can look for baddies setting up an ambush would go a very long way. Problem is it would give the baddies a heads up that someone was coming.

        I think AWACS with gyro telescopes giving visual high def intel would be a better and cheaper way.

        • Oh noes, the baddies. Facing the peeps who order you around, that's totally for whimps -- let's hunt some baddies. False Dichotomy Accomplished.

        • by CPTreese (2114124)

          Problem is it would give the baddies a heads up that someone was coming.

          In my experience I don't think the "baddies" would have known anything. Our UAVs were the RAVEN variant. It was recently shown on Acts of Valor. Its a pretty small airplane that operates on a battery power source. When it reaches an altitude of 300ft (100m) you can't hear it.

      • by CPTreese (2114124)

        It might have helped but UAVs were allocated to the shooters. I was just a simple support guy. If a satellite was already flying overhead and all I had to do was download the images to my SIPPER computer it would have helped.

        • It sounds like something for one of those "future warrior" programs - when every fireteam member has a HUD helmet, you could make it so that they could all get a live feed from any friendly UAVs in the area (which are not otherwise restricted) on demand.

    • This isn't only a benefit at the ground level either. In the global warfare type scenarios, just having this capability would be worth a great deal.

      If a first world enemy were to fight the US, taking out our satellites would be a very reasonable thing to do. Any systems that depend on satcom would be handicapped until we could get the systems restored, and while the really critical systems would have workarounds set up, many of the lower priority systems would lose some capability.

      If the US demonstrates a b

  • by Anonymous Coward

    One of the benefits of the military and NASA is the new technology they develop. So, here's an idea for a launch technology that would dramatically reduce the cost of near-earth satellites. Launch them with a big gun.

    There was a project called HARP which used a large gun to shoot projectiles at 8000 miles per hour. Their record altitude was 112 miles up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_HARP [wikipedia.org] Given that HARP used a kludged together gun, it seems likely that they could develop a purpose built gun tha

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Aren't *all* satellites disposable? I don't recall us going up to grab one and then re-using it.

  • It's not actually weaponizing space, but a platform where we have a railgun that fires 8 foot long 16" wide solid steel I beams at the earth at hypersonic velocities. If you could fling one at say 5800mph it would make a nice eco friendly way of taking out a target.

    • If you could fling one at say 5800mph it would make a nice eco friendly way of taking out a target.

      Think of all the carbon emissions!

  • I can see guys getting uproariously drunk and saying, "Let's launch them suckers!" Up they go, half a million a pop, plus launch expenses.
  • That the whole military BS gets defunded !

    Won't happen in gung-ho US.

    So, learn it the hard way - get extinct!

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      On one hand, I agree with you. On another hand, it seems like the only way we're capable of going into space as a nation is to spend the money through the military. If it leads to more space development then I'm more in favor of it than a new fighter jet.

      • by no-body (127863)

        On one hand, I agree with you. On another hand, it seems like the only way we're capable of going into space as a nation is to spend the money through the military. If it leads to more space development then I'm more in favor of it than a new fighter jet.

        That's yet another strategy to distract from current burning issues:

        - project into the future
        - propose totally unproven technologies

        burning issues:

        - overpopulation (no politician is actually touching it - quite the opposite, look at US)
        - sustainable human adequate economic systems - capitalism is failing 100 % and so are other's - dictatorships, monarchy and what else have you. To say, it's the least evil (capitalism) is a mediocre idea, why not pursue something which is adequate, how would it look and wha

  • With a SeeMe constellation, we hope to directly support warfighters in multiple deployed overseas locations simultaneously with no logistics or maintenance costs beyond the warfighters' handhelds," said Dave Barnhart, the programme's manager.

    So somehow purchasing and launching 24 new satellites every 60 to 90 days counts as "no maintenance or logistics costs." No wonder the military budget is about a trillion dollars a year. sheesh.

  • Why not lace them up with lost of C4 and let them become mines that you could set for space warfare, should we ever need them....just because they are decommissioned does not mean we can not reuse them for other things...

  • "War" satellite? Umm...the article speaks mainly of imaging missions. This is a "recon" satellite. I guess the temptation to scream "war" just won out, eh? Sounds much more sensationalist that way.

  • I haven't read the article but I'm surmising that it won't be cost effective unless they can come up with a cheap way to get these "squads of disposable satellites" into orbit. At least they burn on re-entry, so they won't contribute to the space-junk problem.
  • Sometimes it really is okay to tell the military NO. But this will be green lit without debate, because to debate matters of military spending is unpatriotic.
  • I always thought that it would be interesting to see weaponized UAVs that could be launched from a high-altitude loitering plane on demand.

    When requested, a UAV with a weapon could be released from a loitering plane and then controlled on the ground by the unit requesting it for surveillance and ultimately to engage a target if necessary.

    It could be faster than waiting for a manned plane or helicopter air strike as well as providing detailed intel.

  • how about the US use that money to help people instead. There is no reason to be spending that kind of money on defense when there is literally no threat to the US mainland.
  • Howsabout we just withdraw our military to within our own borders and work on actual healthcare instead?

  • Only the Pentagon could define half million dollar satellites as "disposable" and describe putting "a constellation of see-me satellites" in serveice or a two month period as having "no logistics costs"
  • When the military gets over 1/3 of the US budget, $500K would seem like a disposable number. To everybody else, it sounds like they're talking about things as a dictator's wife would speak of shoes.

    And doesn't space in the orbital regions around the planet already have a catastrophic amount of space junk as it is? Pretty soon any craft leaving Earth is going to have to be heavily (and I do mean heavily) armoured just to get out or into orbit. How will that make things cheaper and better in the long ru
  • This capability is required for any form of sustained combat. It becomes even more critical once debris becomes detrimental to long term satellite system.

    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2682447&cid=39109285 [slashdot.org]

  • Satellite dispose of YOU!

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