Friday, March 23, 2012

Strange Bedfellows: NASCAR, DARPA and Satellites

From Katie Drummond … Darpa: Use NASCAR Parts to Rev Up Satellites:

The Pentagon’s looking to send way more satellites beyond the skies. To do it, though, it’s starting on the highway — by using race car parts to make spacecraft construction quicker and cheaper than it is today.

In a new announcement, Darpa’s asking myriad organizations — including the medical community and the NASCAR set — to help them come up with cheap, disposable satellites that can provide on-demand overhead imagery for soldiers in remote locales.


Its new program, called SeeMe (short for “Space Enabled Effects of Military Engagement”), would culminate with “a constellation” of two dozen satellites, moving in a low orbit and transmitting imagery to soldiers in the field. To do it, though, the agency’s going to have to cut costs — which is why it’s turning to commercial industries, like car racing, which are quicker than the Pentagon to innovate.


Darpa wants each satellite to cost less than $500,000, compared to the tens (if not hundreds) of millions it costs now. Plus, it expects to replace the spacecraft with remarkable frequency: Each one would be designed to spend less than three months in orbit. After that, the satellites would de-orbit and burn up in the atmosphere. Among Darpa’s cost-cutting measures for cheap, disposable satellites: nitrous oxide propulsion gear from the racing industry and medical valves initially developed for hospital oxygen tanks.

Aside from saving mad bank, SeeMe’s overall goal is to give soldiers more mission-planning data. Ideally, Darpa wants soldiers to snag satellite footage “by hitting a button called ‘SeeMe’” on “existing handheld devices,”

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