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TacSat-3, Other ORS Initiatives Benefit Warfighter

This Air Force Minotaur I rocket launched the Air Force Research Laboratory’s TacSat-3 satellite, NASA’s PharmaSat microsatellite and NASA’s CubeSat Technology Demonstration into a low earth orbit May 19.

This Air Force Minotaur I rocket launched the Air Force Research Laboratory’s TacSat-3 satellite, NASA’s PharmaSat microsatellite and NASA’s CubeSat Technology Demonstration into a low earth orbit May 19.

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Operationally Responsive Space Office was stood up in 2007 to respond to presidential direction to rapidly reconstitute critical space capabilities should they be lost. ORS was chartered by Congress to be the coordination office for ORS initiatives across the Department of Defense. Tactical Satellite-3 is one of those initiatives and is designed to bring unprecedented capability to the warfighter. 

"This is necessary for a couple of reasons," said Dr. Peter Wegner, director of the ORS office located at Kirtland AFB, N.M. "There are a growing number of 'actors' in space and there's serious concern in our nation about what those 'actors' may do. 

"There is also the possibility of losing our space capabilities due to natural events. The ORS program is one way to develop the capability to respond to those kinds of emergencies--i.e., ORS is developing low cost, rapid-reaction space capabilities." 

Last month, an Air Force Minotaur l rocket carried TacSat-3 into orbit launching this inaugural small satellite program based on recommendations from combatant commanders around the world. 

"Overall, the TacSat-3 mission is a steppingstone for delivering operationally relevant space capabilities to the joint force commander," said Dr. Wegner. 

"We're excited about this mission because it will help us demonstrate our capability to launch and operate new satellites quickly and cost-effectively," said Col. Scott Handy, mission director for the launch and the Space Test Group commander at Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center, Space Development and Test Wing, at Kirtland AFB, N.M., "and, as Dr. Wegner said, prove its value to the warfighter." 

The TacSat-3 mission is comprised of three payloads. Its primary payload is ARTEMIS--the Advanced Responsive Tactically-Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer. This new capability will give our troops the upper hand in combat situations by providing up-to-the-minute data. 

The primary mission of ARTEMIS is to get data back to the warfighter. The warrior on the ground needs data, and this payload is important because they will be able to get the information real-time. With TacSat-3, processed information will be delivered to the warfighter on the ground within minutes what used to take hours. And this all happens following a single-pass collection opportunity on a specified target. 

"If I was a commander in the field and wanted to know what was over the next hill before I committed my troops, information about the surroundings before putting warfighter's lives at risk would be invaluable information," Col. Handy said. "To get certain types of information, as the satellite passes overhead from one horizon to the next, the war fighter sends a tasking to the satellite that would then actually take measurements and provide that valuable information to the warrior before the satellite sets on the other horizon. And this happens in minutes what used to take hours," he said.

The imager on board is a hyper spectral imager. "It can see what other sensors can't," explained Dr. Wegner. "Now our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines can get information about what is truly around them--not just what may appear to be around them," emphasized Wegner. 

"Many military and civilian applications have been developed for these types of images using both airborne data and data from NASA's Hyperion instrument launched in 2000, which provided 30-meter spectral resolution and approximately 220 spectral bands," said Dr. Tom Cooley, the Air Force Research Laboratory's TacSat-3 program manager. 

To put these parameters in perspective--"the ARTEMIS payload, using design lessons from previous imaging sensors, will produce approximately 400 spectral channels and, with other design enhancements, will substantially improve the spectral performance across the entire region," said Dr. Cooley. 

TacSat-3 also features the Office of Naval Research's satellite communications package trial, which will collect data from sea-based buoys and transmit information back to a ground station for expeditious communication to the war fighter. It also houses the AFRL-designed space avionics experiment payload, which will validate plug-and-play avionics capabilities using reprogrammable components to integrate the experiment and the spacecraft structure. 

"I think what we're doing here with the partnership, not only with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Space Development and Test Wing, but across the space enterprise with our industry partners is very important to where we are going as a nation," said Wegner. "The ORS office on the one hand is working to bring the power of space capability down into the hands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines deployed around the world, but also developing a new space architecture that will take us into the next decade with a much more flexible and agile robust space capability. 

"And this is something I believe very passionately in," he said. "The power that's available in space systems to provide situational awareness to all those men and women we put in harms way around the world is critically important." 

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