Air Force micro-satellite to test tactical data comms

The Air Force recently launched a micro-satellite that will test tactical data communications and other services for warfighters in southwest Asia.

TacSat-2, put into orbit Dec. 16, is part of the Defense Department's Joint Warfighting Space initiative, which seeks to develop low-cost, rapidly deployable space technologies to support tactical operations -- a goal that DOD officials call "operationally responsive space."

During the next six to 12 months, TacSat-2 will test 11 different experimental instrument packages designed to give new capabilities to warfighters in southwest Asia.

Among those is the first space-based Common Data Link (CDL) tactical radio transponder. Initially, CDL will send tactically usable communications and images to a Navy facility at China Lake, Calif. Another trial will test the Integrated GPS Occultation Receiver, which will compute high-precision positioning information.

The TacSat-2 micro-satellite is managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate from Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M. NASA, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Army Space Program Office, ad Air Force Space Command are also involved.

'The project team is excited about the positive start to a milestone mission for the future of rapid, responsive space operations,' said Neal Peck, TacSat-2 program manager, in a press release.

TacSat-2 is an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration, aimed at developing a new business and procurement model for rapidly fielding satellites. The ACTD's objectives are to build a spacecraft within 15 months of receiving authority to design, launch it within one week of being called up, and be able to link data to the theater of operations one day after launch.

'The overall objective of the TacSat experiments is to test the key elements needed to realize an operationally responsive space system,' according to globalsecurity.org. 'A major first step to achieve an operational response space capability is the Joint Warfighting Space concept.'

TacSat-2 was launched from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility, near Wallops Island, Va., aboard a Minotaur1 rocket.

MicroSat Systems of Littleton, Colo., built the spacecraft, Broad Research Engineering supplied the software, and Jackson and Tull did the testing.

According to the Air Force Research Laboratory, other TacSat-2 experimental technologies are:
  • Enhanced Commercial Imager
  • RoadRunner On-board Processing Experiment
  • Target Indicator Experiment
  • Autonomous Operations
  • Hall Effect Thruster
  • Inertial Stellar Compass
  • Low Power Transceiver
  • Atmospheric Density Spectrometer
  • Experimental Solar Array  

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