Press Release

Responsive Space Demonstrator TacSat-2 Ready to Roll

By SpaceRef Editor
November 18, 2006
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Responsive Space Demonstrator TacSat-2 Ready to Roll
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Image: ATacSat-2 micro satellite is readied for thermal vacuum testing at AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. (Air Force photo)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M – Officials are saying the December launch of a tactical satellite, dubbed TacSat-2, will serve as the predecessor for rapid satellite production, launch and operation.

Managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate here, TacSat-2 has evolved into a responsive space demonstrator ready for flight in 24 months. Similar military spacecraft have taken 10 years or longer to go from the drawing board into space. In addition, the microsatellite provides an inexpensive alternative to most current defense-related space systems, which cost about 90 percent more.

Employing the responsive space concept, plans are under way in the Air Force to design, construct, test and deliver a mission-ready satellite within a 15-month time frame, as well as launch and operate the vehicle in the cosmos one week following receipt of a tasking order.

Neal Peck, the TacSat-2 program manager, said he’s excited about the TacSat-2 launch from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., because TacSat-2 is another demonstration of a new way of doing business.

“We have had high-level Air Force and DOD interest as well as high-level congressional interest,” Mr. Peck said. “The push that we are getting from high levels will cause real change in how we procure space systems. TacSat-2 is step one in that process.”

TacSat-2 weighs about 814 pounds. It features 11 onboard experiments, which will be conducted during the spacecraft’s planned six- to 12-month mission.

Among them is the Navy’s Target Indicator Experiment, or TIE. It consists of a wideband sensor to gather radar, radio and handheld communication signals. The TIE also will check for the automated identification transmission now mandated for large ocean-going ships. The 20-inch optical telescope will be operated during the satellite’s initial day in orbit and throughout the flight to exhibit low-cost, high-quality photography.

Other scheduled tests include: the integrated global positioning system occultation receiver, which will compile high-precision location data for the micro satellite; recycled solar array panels producing 500 watts of power; and autonomous operations allowing TacSat-2 to think for itself.

The Common Data Link, or CDL, tactical radio is one trial that has significant impact to deployed forces. The CDL will provide communication and imagery to the Modular Interoperable Surface Terminal, or MIST, located at the Navy’s China Lake, Calif., facility. During functional testing, the apparatus successfully passed color pictures through the spacecraft to the ground station. In addition, program personnel will assess the satellite’s ability to accept commands from the MIST.

&”TacSat-2 will directly benefit the troop on the ground,” Mr. Peck said. “By demonstrating that it can communicate directly with the China Lake facility, TacSat-2 can directly talk to any common data link compatible ground station across the globe.

“The trend is toward low-cost systems like TacSat-2, but that is a philosophical change,” Mr. Peck said. “The current philosophy is to build highly redundant systems to last 10 to 20 years in orbit. These platforms cost billions of dollars and they are already obsolete (technologically speaking) before their lifetime expires in orbit. Now, by flying the most recent technology, their lifetime is short, but they do not become obsolete, and the federal government will save a lot of money.”

by Michael P. Kleiman, AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate

SpaceRef staff editor.