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TacSat / Joint Warfighting Space (JWS)


TacSat-1 was the first experiment in this initiative. During the second half of 2003 and the first half of 2004, NRL designed, assembled, integrated, and tested the TacSat-1 spacecraft. The entire spacecraft was completed in less than one year, from go-ahead to the end of system-level testing, for less than $10M.

The primary objectives of TacSat-1 are to provide an operationally relevant 100 kg class microsatellite with electronic intelligence (ELINT), specific emitter identifier (SEI), and cross-platform capability; demonstrate launch within one year (which was not met), while supporting a new low-cost commercial launch vehicle; make the space asset an organic part of the forces; and develop lessons learned and process to begin a repeatable cycle. Spacecraft development and launch were to be completed for less than $15M. The success to date of this experiment helped OFT successfully excite the broader DoD and industry in the responsive space area. With an eye toward an operational system, TacSat-1 contributes SIPRNET-based networking using the Virtual Mission Operation Center (VMOC) software, support for a new low-cost launch vehicle, and an iterative operational experimentation approach led by PACOM.

The TacSat-1 experiment received go-ahead on May 7, 2003 and was scheduled to launch within 1 year of that date. To meet this timeline and the challenging budget, many different technical and programmatic approaches were implemented. Due to overflight concerns, Falcon I was required to launch after a Titan IV. As of June 2005, the Titan IV flight will launch no earlier than September and may very well be delayed until October or November 2005, depending upon what issues arise. So TechSat-1 took over twice as long as originally planned to launch.

One of the objectives of TacSat-1, as well as the broader initiative, is to make space assets and their capabilities available to operational users. Additionally, OFT intends for the TacSat-1 experiment to generate policies where concepts and technology co-evolve, ultimately ensuring that space-based assets emerge as an organic part of the JTF.

TacSat-1 uses a commercial MicroStar spacecraft to carry three payloads into low earth orbit: a thermal infrared camera, a color visible light camera, and Copperfield-2. TacSat-1 payloads provide several experimental capabilities. Machine-to-machine collaboration between air and space assets for geo-location is one of the payload capabilities. This capability has the potential to path-find future national capabilities and concepts of operation (CONOPS). This payload is a derivation of NRL's Spacecraft Engineering Department payload development that has been done for the Navy TENCAP (Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities) and a CONOP extended from an ONR program.

The NRL Copperfield-2 payload detects, tracks, and identifies pulsed radio frequency signals. Originally designed and built for use on uncrewed aerial vehicles, NRL is ruggedizing and shielding the Copperfield-2 payload for spaceflight use. The specific emitter identification (SEI) payload is a Tactical Electronic Warfare Division (TEW) development that has been repackaged for space. Both the SEI and cross-platform mission payload also leverage the TEW Low Cost Receivers (LCR-100) design, which is an enabling micro-satellite technology because of its impressive capability yet small size, weight, and power.

Two imaging cameras have been included to provide intuitive data for the SIPRNET tasking and data dissemination part of the experiment. One camera is an infrared camera that uses a microbolometer FPA, which does not require cryogenic cooling, thereby significantly reducing complexity (size, weight and power). This IR camera is a product of an Army Night Vision Laboratory development and was recommended for flight by TEW. The IR camera collects in the 7.5 to 12-m range and will provide 850-m resolution. The infraSPOT Indigo Omega infrared camera uses new technology for thermal imaging without cryogenic cooling, providing a major reduction in size, weight, and power. Designed for applications such as firefighting, security/surveillance, unmanned vehicles, and robots, TacSat-1 will be the camera's first use in space. NRL is ruggedizing and shielding the camera for spaceflight use.

A visible camera is also installed and will provide 70-m resolution.The HanVision HVDUO-F7 Industrial Camera uses new technology to simultaneously image red, green, and blue on each pixel. NRL is ruggedizing and shielding the camera for spaceflight use.

The overarching objective of this experiment is to provide and launch an operationally relevant micro-satellite, with the ability to task and disseminate data through existing operational networks (SIPRNET), in less than 1 year and for less than $15 million (to include launch costs). Additionally, this experiment will explore concept-technology pairings that develop near-term paths for the tactical use of space in four key areas.

In the area of micro-satellite design and processing, the TacSat-1 schedule and low cost pushed intelligent applications of standard processes as well as new design and test approaches. One of the new approaches includes utilization of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) components within a hermetically sealed, fan-cooled chassis, to help them survive and operate in space.

The TacSat-1 experiment will provide one data point in the area of responsive, on-demand space lift. The experiment uses a new, commercial launch vehicle (the Falcon Launch Vehicle) being developed by Space Exploration technologies with private capital to compete within dynamic market conditions. During the TacSat-1 launch preparation, tailored DOD approaches to mission assurance and risk mitigation are being developed to be appropriate for the rapid cycle times and low-cost class of micro-satellites missions.

The TacSat-1 space element will be used in operational experiments, showing a way for space assets to become an organic part of the JTF. Direct tasking and data dissemination are being performed both real-time from aircraft and time-latent (based on orbital positioning) via the SIPRNET.

TacSat-1 will help the development of space professionals and the processes needed for responsive space. An important aspect of this is the strong government-industry team implementing TacSat-1. This largely in-place team allows the entire experiment to be defined and implemented faster than most contracts can be put in place. This government-industry team approach also helps to spread the knowledge gained from TacSat-1 into industry as well as within the government.

The first launch of Falcon I ended in failure 24 March 2006 over the Pacific Ocean shortly after liftoff. Space enthusiasts watched the launch through a live Internet telecast, but moments later the picture went dead, and the company later said it lost the space vehicle. A spokeswoman said it was not initially clear what went wrong. Falcon I's maiden flight, conducted two years later than originally planned, carried the Defense Department's TacSat-1 satellite. This was the first of three scheduled Falcon I launches for the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB.


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