On Sunday, SpaceX launched CRS-12, a cargo resupply mission destined for the International Space Station carrying a “supercomputer” that has garnered a fair amount of attention, and with good reason, as it may serve as an important step toward equipping future space missions with lifesaving artificial intelligence. However, inside the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Forces Strategic Command, soldiers were celebrating a different piece of equipment that was along for the ride.
The USASMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center’s Kestrel Eye project is a mini-fridge sized satellite demonstrator that hopes to offer U.S. troops in battle the ability to view satellite-taken imagery at a significantly lower cost than previous satellite imagery operations. At only about 110 pounds, the comparatively small satellite can capture electro-optical images at a tactically useful resolution, and will allow soldiers to task and receive data as it passes over a battlefield.
This launch is hugely important for the Kestrel Eye team,” said Tom Webber, SMDC Tech Center director. “It’s the culmination of several years of hard work and commitment to deliver the spacecraft, not just to a launch provider, but to orbit. I couldn’t be prouder of the team and their dedication to overcome the many challenges and obstacles to get here. This is like sending your child off to college. You’re excited, nervous, scared, and proud all at the same time.”
Having access to satellite imagery could permit American troops to maintain the edge over enemy forces, by tracking their movements, identifying equipment, and identifying the size of an enemy force. These benefits are all already available from military and intelligence spy satellites, but there aren’t enough satellites to task with observation of every potential conflict region the U.S. now has troops. That’s where the small size and low-cost of the Kestrel Eye begins to demonstrate its value.