Soldiers on the battlefield often rely on satellite imagery to know what's over the next ridge or around the corner, but that intel is often old. A new system being developed by DARPA aims to fix that problem, by letting soldiers call up near-live satellite images on-demand from a fleet of orbiting mini satellites.
We first heard about the Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) project last year, but now Raytheon has been awarded the contract to develop it, and they have just released more juicy details.
SeeMe will consist of a constellation of 24 tiny 25-pound satellites which can focus in on any point on the globe within 90 minutes. From there the images can be transmitted directly to computers or even smartphones used by the soldiers on the ground. This will allow them to see if the enemy's waiting in ambush just over the hill, or if everything looks clear.
To keep costs down, each satellite will be put into orbit by a missile fired from a jet fighter, rather than an expensive land-based rocket. Still, the cost for each satellite rings in at around $2 million, $500,000 for the satellite itself, and $1.5 million for its launch into space. That wouldn't be too bad if they had a lifespan of several years, but Raytheon says each satellite will only last about 45 days before if re-enters the atmosphere and burns up. Multiply that by the 24 satellites needed to cover the globe and suddenly it doesn't seem quite so cheap.
Raytheon says that SeeMe is still in its early stages, and won't be ready for service for about ten years. In the meantime, I guess soldiers will have to rely on surveillance drones to keep an eye on things.
Check out the video to see an artist's impression of how SeeMe will be launched.