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Raytheon has begun developing disposable SeeMe satellites small enough to be launched from aircraft and capable of granting an instant bird’s eye view of the battlefield to warfighters. The Company hopes to build half a dozen of the small satellites for ground testing as part of the contract’s second phase.
Raytheon received a $1.5 million development contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) back in December 2012. DARPA requested small, “disposable” satellites capable of directly transmitting data to soldiers in the field.
SeeMe is an acronym for Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements. These satellites are designed to be compact affairs that are less than a meter in length, weigh less than 25 pounds, and have a minimum orbital operational lifespan of 45 days. A constellation of two dozen such satellites can send near-real time battlefield images to current military satellite communication devices and, in the future, smartphones.
Raytheon is applying its high-volume, low-cost approach in designing and manufacturing tactical missiles to this project. A traditional satellite is a sizeable multi-function platform that takes years to build and costs tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. SeeMe satellites, on the other hand, can be manufactured in large volumes. One SeeMe is expected to cost less than $500,000 given full production rates; total launch costs using the DARPA-provided ALASA (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access) booster is expected to be a mere $1.5 million per satellite.
Sierra Nevada Corp, the University of Arizona, and SRI International will be assisting Raytheon in the design work and eventual production of the SeeMe satellite during the initial contract.
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