Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Rocket set for launch on Virginia Eastern Shore

A U.S. military satellite designed to detect hidden enemy weapons and quickly inform U.S. troops of their location is set for launch from Virginia's Eastern Shore tomorrow evening from 2000-2300 EDT. The Air Force TacSet-3 satellite and two other payloads is set to blast off on a 69-foot-high Minotaur 1 rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

TacSat-3 features three revolutionary trials: the Raytheon Company-built Advanced Responsive Tactically Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer hyperspectral imager, the Office of Naval Research's Satellite Communications Package, and the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Avionics Experiment. This trio of payloads will offer real-time imagery (within 10 minutes of collection), sea-based information transmitted from ocean buoys and plug-and-play avionics to assist the warfighter in keeping one step ahead of the adversary.

Scientists say the 880-pound satellite atop the $60 million spacecraft will offer hyperspectral images and deliver them in 10 minutes. Officials say it is especially suited to battle conditions in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

Military officials say it the satellite is successful, it could be ready for actual battlefield use in a year or two.

Two of the Tactical Satellite-3's trio of payloads may be called secondary, but their importance to the success of the spacecraft's year-long mission is primary.

Employing plug-and-play technology, the Space Avionics Experiment will provide backup downlink capability for TacSat-3's main experiment, the Advanced Responsive Tactically-Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer, and the Satellite Communications Package will transmit sea-based and space-generated data to ground stations.

Once launched, it will serve as the inaugural demonstration of plug- and-play avionics operating in the cosmos environment. The AFRL-funded SAE payload features plug-and-play components similar to desktop computer Universal Serial Bus components, which, if required due to a system failure, will perform data transfer to enable downlink of ARTEMIS sensor data, as well as will provide TacSat-3 with global positioning system information.

"The purpose of the technology is to significantly reduce spacecraft development time from years to months to weeks, as well as to lower production costs," said Maurice Martin, responsive systems group lead, the AFRL's Space Vehicles Directorate. "Our plan during TacSat-3's flight is to evaluate the Space Avionics Experiment on an occasional basis to ensure the components' reliability in case they are called upon to function in full operational mode."

Managed by the Office of Naval Research, the Satellite Communications Package will collect data from ocean buoys and then TacSat-3's onboard processor will download the details to a ground station. In addition, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command will utilize the SCP experiment's ultra high frequency radio link known as the Army Tactical Data Link.

"USASMDC/ARSTRAT is going to use the Satellite Communications Package payload's ATDL to provide a direct tactical downlink of onboard processed information from the ARTEMIS to the joint force commander. The JFC will have direct access to task the spacecraft as it appears over the horizon, while the satellite is still in view, the requested information will then be transmitted back to the JFC," said Allen Kirkham, Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab technical lead for the TacSat-3 Joint Military Assessment, Peterson AFB, Colo. "We will coordinate with the TacSat-3 program team to utilize the SCP's ATDL for a few two-week periods during the spacecraft's 12-month mission. We also intend to use the SCP's ATDL during a major exercise to allow us to collect data and perform a Joint Military Utility Assessment of the satellite and sensor's capabilities to support the joint force commander in the field."

As a significant team member in the program, the Space and Missile Systems Center's Space Development and Test Wing, also situated at Kirtland AFB, is providing the Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Minotaur I launch vehicle. The four-stage rocket consists of two structures taken from retired Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles, and another two stages from Orbital's Pegasus booster. In addition, the Dept. of Defense's Operationally Responsive Space office is underwriting the launch and will be heading the Military Utility assessment to determine the operational value of the low-cost satellite and its three payloads. SMC's Space Development and Test Wing will also assist mission operations during TacSat-3's flight in Low Earth Orbit at approximately 425 kilometers (264 miles) altitude.

The downlink frequencies for this spacecraft have not been determined. We believe there will be a UHF military downlink from this satelite. Any reports on the freqs to be used by this bird or any post launch intercepts would be appreciated.

Three cubesats will be launched as secondary payloads on the TacSat-3 mission. The satellites, which contain their own power and data systems, are four-inch cubes that weigh 2.2 pounds each. The cubesats are being provided by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; The Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, Calif. and the Hawk Institute for Space Sciences, Pocomoke City, Md.

These three cubesats are named PharmaSat-1, HawkSat-1 and PolySat CP6. The three satellites are placed in a Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployer (P-POD), the standard deployment system for cubesats. The P-POD was developed by the Aerospace Engineering Department at Cal Poly. During the rocket’s ascent, each cubesat will be deployed separately from the P-POD into space.

The PharmaSat experiment, developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center and will measure the influence of microgravity upon yeast resistance to an antifungal agent. PharmaSat focuses on questions key to countermeasure development for long-term space travel and habitation.

PharmaSat-1 will be in a low earth orbit at 40 degrees inclination. This submission is for a beacon on board PharmaSat. The orbit should be nearly circular with an altitude of 390 Km at the start of the mission, degrading to 200km after approx 250 to 300 days, at which time it would de-orbit. There will be a 150mW UHF beacon operating with 1200baud AX25 packet for 1/2 sec every 5 secs. Command and control will use an experimental licence in the 2.4 GHz ISM band. The satellite will be a triple cubesat with a mass of approx 4 kg. The co-ordinated downlink frequency is 437.465 MHz. See for more info.

Hawksat-1 is a demonstrator cubesat mission. Payload consists of multiple COTS and custom products. The co-ordinated downlink frequency is 437.345 MHz. Views can be found at

The experiment Polysat CP6 will measure plasma fields, using three tape measures that extend out about a meter, charging them up to 400 volts, and looking at the electrons flowing around the spacecraft in the plasma. The co-ordinated downlink frequency is 437.365 MHz (1200 bps AX.25). See