Recently, the U.S.-based aerospace and defense company Raytheon has started the production of a series of satellites that aim to give soldiers on the ground a reliable and effective eye in the sky. Called “Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements” or SeeMe, this DARPA-backed program consists of a number of disposable miniature satellites that will allow foot soldiers to access live satellite imagery from the palm of their hand.
Currently, the average soldier on the ground relies primarily on military intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or satellites. Although effective, both forms of reconnaissance cannot constantly provide real-time information to troops on the front line. UAVs can only stay airborne for limited amounts of time and current satellites do not possess the capability for live images.
With SeeMe, soldiers will be able to view live satellite images from a handheld device such as a smartphone or tablet (1). The capability for any soldier to have access to this level of military intelligence is unparalleled on the battlefield today. If effective, SeeMe will give its users a decisive advantage in any combat situation—from a small skirmish to a large-scale battle.
Another enticing aspect of SeeMe is its low cost and disposability. Previous satellites require massive rockets to be launched into space and can cost upwards of $1 billion. SeeMe weighs roughly 50 pounds and possess an expected price tag of less than $500,000. In addition, SeeMe satellites are only supposed to last anywhere from 60 to 90 days in orbit, falling towards the ground and burning up in the atmosphere afterwards (2).
The potential behind this program is precisely why DARPA has supported it. Later this year, SeeMe is planned to be sent into low orbit via the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (3). Once safely launched, the satellites will be tested by American foot soldiers over the course of a few months. If all goes well, plans exist for over two dozen more satellites to be launched into orbit over the coming years.
If successful, SeeMe will likely be the first in a long line of disposable satellites, whose industry is supposed to grow to over $7 billion over the next several years (4).
(1) Wicnner, David. "Raytheon Developing Tiny Satellites to Help Troops on the Ground." Korea Stripes. N.p., 17 Oct. 2016. Web. 4 Nov. 2016.
(3) "Raytheon." Tiny Satellite Work Ramps Up. N.p., 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
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