Tuesday, 5 April 2011

US Army Space and Missile Defense Command Operational Nanosatellite Effect (SMDC-ONE)

US Army Space and Missile Defense Command Operational Nanosatellite Effect (SMDC-ONE)

While the Navy and Air Force have been focused on the potential of microsatellites, the US Army’s view is that smaller is better. The Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT) has launched a program to develop communication nanosatellites.

Nanosatellites are designed to serve as nodes for battlefield communication. The Space and Missile Defense Command: Operational Nanosatellite Effect (SMDC-ONE) program plans to develop many of these satellites and place them into low earth orbit to provide as-needed tactical communications capability. The satellites will be able to send and receive data files from a ground command and relay the data to other ground stations.

The Army ordered eight SMDC-ONE nanosatellites from Ducommun’s Miltec Corp., which were delivered in April 2009. Each satellite weighs less than 10 pounds, is 4×4x13 inches in size, and costs less than $1 million to produce. Production of all 8 satellites took less than a year.

The USASMDC/ARSTRAT describes the overall purpose of the SMDC-ONE nanosatellite program as follows:

“Nanosats deployed in large numbers can provide enhanced capabilities over large latitudinal swaths of the earth or even globally. Because they are low cost, they can be ‘refreshed’ frequently by launching replacements, which allows rapid technology upgrades, reduces the unit reliability requirements, and allows for manufacturing economies of scale. A nanosat constellation populated by inexpensive spacecraft could be useful in tactical ground operations, humanitarian support, and stability operations. If some satellites are lost, they can be rapidly reconstituted. They can provide coverage over specific regions as well as globally.”

The Army successfully blasted its first nanosatellite into orbit on Dec 8/10 from Cape Canaveral. This was the first launch of an Army-built satellite in more than 50 years. The satellite launched onboard a Falcon 9 two-stage booster as a secondary payload. The satellite was able to communication with the ground station and remained in orbit for 30 days.

For future missions, the Army is considering developing nanosatellites with on-board GPS capability, S-band communications link for increased data transmission, inclusion of a software defined radio for greater transceiver frequency flexibility, and modification of the radios to increase the available volume for payloads.