C4iSR: Joint & Common Equipment

US Army’s Kestrel Eye electro-optical micro satellite demonstrator launched

15 August 2017
An artist's concept shows Kestrel Eye Block I, intended to increase the responsiveness of space assets to ground warfighter needs. Source: Maryland Aeronautics

The Kestrel Eye electro-optical micro satellite, which the US Army hopes can improve situational awareness for brigade combat teams, was launched on 14 August to the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX launched its twelfth Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-12) from Florida and its ‘Dragon’ resupply vehicle is expected to arrive at the ISS on 16 August.

“Dragon will be filled with over 6,400 lbs of supplies and payloads, including critical materials to directly support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations,” SpaceX said in a statement.

Those experiments include the Kestrel Eye, a 10 kg, 30.5x10.2x10.2 cm satellite developed by Maryland Aerospace Inc.

It is a tactical electro-optical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) system that that US Army will use “to demonstrate the military utility of providing near real-time situational awareness directly to a brigade combat team” without needing to relay signals from the Continental United States, Lieutenant General James Dickinson, head of US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (SMDC/ARSTRAT), said in July.

The ISS crew will assemble and deploy the satellite into low-Earth orbit. Once in orbit it will “automatically power up and receive signals”, Lt Gen Dickinson said.

According to NASA, after the satellite is deployed it will begin “nominal mission operations limited by its orbital lifetime expected to be approximately six months".

NASA said Kestrel Eye “is a microsatellite carrying an optical imaging system payload”. The satellite’s primary payload is a “medium-resolution electro-optical imaging system, an element of which is a commercial off-the-shelf [COTS] telescope”, the space agency added. It has an integrated command data and handling system, attitude controls, and solar arrays for power.

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