back to article Raytheon to build low-orbit, disposable satellites for DARPA

The fighter-deployed satellites in DARPA's latest plan - which will deploy them in orbits so low they burn up in a month - will be built by Raytheon, which reckons it can do the job for $2m a pop. SeeMe* was announced last March, as an intermediate step between surveillance drones, which have limited airtime, and spy …

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  1. Ragarath

    $48M a Pop

    So if they are launching $48,000,000 worth of satellites per op how does this compare to what is currently spent?

    Though if it saves lives money should not matter.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: $48M a Pop

      Though if it saves lives money should not matter."

      Hahahah. Save lives. Good one.

    2. MahFL22

      Re: $48M a Pop

      The big ones cost billions of $, but of course it's all classified. Remember the military just offered NASA four Hubble sized mirrors they don't need anymore, yes not one but 4.......

    3. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      @Ragarth ... Re: $48M a Pop

      The sats are 2 million a pop so its not $48M a pop.

      If you look at the costs involved in changing a position of a spy satellite, this is relatively cheaper and it allows for more of a continuous upgrade in terms of technology. (How often can you launch a big bird? )

      The interesting thing would be if you could place a mini sat in geo synchronous orbit over the target.

      Assuming that you can get in to the airspace over the target in the first place.

      I don't know if you could launch this from an SR-71, but something capable of that high of an altitude and speed...

      Just saying

      1. Turtle

        @Ian Michael Gumby

        All SR-71's have been retired for years now, as I'm sure you know. And a difficult aircraft it was to maintain, too.

        Maybe Aurora could launch them...

        : )

      2. Martin Budden
        FAIL

        Re: @Ragarth ... $48M a Pop

        "The interesting thing would be if you could place a mini sat in geo synchronous orbit over the target."

        Firstly: I think you mean "geostationary", because any other "geo synchronous orbit" moves around and doesn't stay over the target.

        Secondly: it costs a bloody fortune to get something into geostationary orbit, because geostationary orbit is so very very very high.

        Thirdly: picture resolution of the target will be terrible, because geostationary orbit is so very very very high.

        Fourthly: geostationary orbit is over the equator, which is fine if the target happens to be on or near the equator, but is increasingly useless the further the target is from the equator.

      3. Ragarath

        Re: @Ragarth ... $48M a Pop

        The sats are 2 million a pop so its not $48M a pop.

        Erm read the article, it says they want 24 per operation, so yes it is $48M per pop.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    "ALASA" is FALCON reborn?

    The fail is strong with this one.

    Well a typically US surveillance satellite will cost in the 100s of $m and take several years to launch but it will last say 5-10 years.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "ALASA" is FALCON reborn?

      These "releases" are usually just misinformation and propaganda intended to send the commies off on a wild goose chase. Largely smoke and mirrors intended to make the willy-waving look more impressive. I (and I'm sure all the commies) certainly see no reason to suspect that this one's any different.

      1. Ben Holmes
        FAIL

        Re: "ALASA" is FALCON reborn?

        Had to double take reading your comment. Momentarily went full retard and forgot that the Chinese are alledgedly Communists.

        The fail is strong in me today.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Happy

          Re: "ALASA" is FALCON reborn?

          "Had to double take reading your comment. Momentarily went full retard and forgot that the Chinese are alledgedly Communists."

          Easily done. Even the Albanians have long discarded Karl's jottings.

          AC probably does not get the bandwidth in his bunker.

          1. Ledswinger Silver badge

            Re: "ALASA" is FALCON reborn?

            "Even the Albanians have long discarded Karl's jottings"

            Maybe. Sadly most of the rest of Europe, the UK, and the US seem firmly committed to the concept of the state controlling the economy.

            1. Suricou Raven

              Re: "ALASA" is FALCON reborn?

              Understandable, right now, given how good a job the the private sector has done these last few years.

            2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
              Happy

              Re: "ALASA" is FALCON reborn?

              "Maybe. Sadly most of the rest of Europe, the UK, and the US seem firmly committed to the concept of the state controlling the economy."

              That is a disease of politicians and their civil servants.

              Their politics are irrelevant

  3. Mongo

    No bid from LOHAN?

    Camera, check...

    flexible launch platform, check (anywhere Lester's car can get but not too far from lunch. Wars in Spain get preferential discounts)...

    Orbital capability, check (d'oh! It's right there in the name!)

    Of course a bit later on you'll have to have one of THOSE awkward conversations, but providing you emphasise how often defense procurements fall short of goals, how oft we stumble when first we reach for the stars, and especially how much your Board of Directors would benefit from the expertise of recently retired congressmen and generals it'll go fine!

  4. Reality Dysfunction
    Black Helicopters

    who came up with this idea?

    The disposable battlefield low orbit constellation of satellites has been a mainstay of Dale Brown books for many years (Bargain bin at the pound shop or supermarket for details) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dale-Brown/e/B000APTUTC

    This man is obviously a spy...

    Where are the "Tin Man" suits is what I want to know?

    1. TRT Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: who came up with this idea?

      What was the keyboard shortcut for 'call recon satellite' in Tanarus again?

  5. Tom_

    90 minutes?

    "Not that 24 satellites are necessary, that just ensures that one turns up every hour and a half. "

    This doesn't sound right. The ISS has an orbital period of around 90 minutes and these are presumably a bit lower than that, so each individual satellite should be flying over your battlefield every 90 minutes (or less), meaning with 24 of them you'll have one going over every three or four minutes.

    1. Christoph Silver badge

      Re: 90 minutes?

      It doesn't repeat the same ground track, as the planet has turned.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 90 minutes?

        "It doesn't repeat the same ground track, as the planet has turned."

        Well, the airborne weapony could just move to keep the war going under the satellite, thus saving money, and affording new and more interesting targets for military types well bored of shelling the same Afghan compounds?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: 90 minutes?

          >move to keep the war going under the satellite,

          Wouldn't it be cheaper to just film the war in the same studio they used for the moon landings ?

          1. Ledswinger Silver badge

            Re: 90 minutes?

            "Wouldn't it be cheaper to just film the war in the same studio they used for the moon landings ?"

            A fabulous idea, sir! Instead of showing Black Hawk Down and Zero Dark Thirty as entertainment, film new ones, break 'em up into clips, play them as news, and the US public can believe that they're getting any war they want. Announce the the public that the Allies are bombing AQ in Sudan, suspend all visas to Sudan, and send anybody coming back to Gitmo (to keep the reality quiet that nobody is bombing Sudan other than the Sudanese).

            Even better, in this "The Matrix meets Saving Private Ryan" approach, the US could actually win the wars they fight, and leave the nations concerned as peaceful, law abiding democracies. And what's more, it'd work a treat to reduce the US and UK deficits, the foreigners could continue to live in whatever mediaeval squalor and brutality suits them, and maybe for a change the Germans could join the crusade, sending squads of actors and pyrotechnic expertise. Obviously the Frogs wouldn't take part unless it was filmed in French, so we'd have to leave them out (or write in a bit about crooked Frenches selling arms to the baddies).

            What is not to like?

    2. Annihilator
      Boffin

      Re: 90 minutes?

      It passes west to east every 90 minutes, it also drifts on each orbit. So as I post now, it's at the same point as the UK, but sadly it's south of Africa too :-) Otherwise you'd see it at the same time each evening. As it is, visible passes are in the early morning for the UK. Give it a few weeks and it'll be back to the evening.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 90 minutes?

        Not if it goes into a precessing polar orbit. Then it can be arranged to pass over the same region every orbit. Stopping orbits precessing is often one way of running out of fuel

  6. Christoph Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Where will they be tested?

    The current wars are winding down. Have they decided yet where they are going to invade next so that they have a war to test the system with?

    1. Ledswinger Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Where will they be tested?

      If the Israelis can stop that itchy trigger finger then Iran would pass for a testing range in a nearly suitable timescale.

      But your suggestion that "current wars are winding down" seems to ignore the palpable delight of polticians and military everywhere that AQ in Africa are now The Threat Of Tomorrow (tm). Renowned British simpleton David Cameron has announced that this not-yet-started war will last thirty years (although what military assets he thinks he'll contribute to this new and exciting party, who knows). I'm sure some US military types are hankering to go back and bomb the dung out of Mogadishu, and there's a whole host of other poor, sub-Saharan African countries just waiting to be bombed.

      1. Rattus Rattus

        "poor, sub-Saharan African countries just waiting to be bombed."

        But they're poor because they have no oil. If they have no oil, why would the US bother invading, sorry, "liberating" them?

        1. Ledswinger Silver badge

          Re: "poor, sub-Saharan African countries just waiting to be bombed."

          Oil rarely has much bearing on the real economy of a country, particularly if it isn't democratic. So Algerians are poor because individually they are poorly educated, there's not much infrastructure, nor a good, reliable legal system.

          But that doesn't mean no energy reserves. They are the eighth largest gas producer in the world, third largest supplier to Europe. Third largest oil reserves in Africa, with 40% of exports to the US.

    2. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: Where will they be tested?

      Florin? Guilder?

      1. Christoph Silver badge

        Re: Where will they be tested?

        "Florin? Guilder?"

        Inconceivable!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Where will they be tested?

          from what i can tell from the "low key" hints on the news i suspect algeria will be getting the nod next

  7. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    SEEME

    Space Extra Expensive for Military Engagements

    Spy satelites - looking for the next war to justify their existence.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: SEEME

      No doubt to be joined in orbit by FEELME, TOUCHME and HEALME..

      .. well, maybe not the last one if it's a military project.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: SEEME

        Nah, that's the name of the Vatican's program

    2. MrT

      Naming...

      ... desperately trying to make an acronym fit.

      Ballistic Objects Launched Locally Over Conflict Zones

      Still, if many can be launched at once from one aircraft, then the jet can carry a load of them, which about sums it up. If they are low enough to last only a few weeks, are they low enough to be intercepted?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: SEEME

      BAE - billions above estimate

  8. Don Jefe

    Analysis

    The current setup already provides so much data that it can't be processed fast enough to make tactical decisions regarding dynamic targets. By the time the data is received, processed by computer, checked by hand, classified, and transmitted to the battlefield everything but large installations have often moved/changed.

    Unless the data from these new birds is going to be sent straight to the battlefield (which won't happen due to security) I can only see more information increasing the logjam.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Analysis

      They could just upload the movies to "mega", I'm sure the$48m would pay for a premium account

    2. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Analysis

      "Unless the data from these new birds is going to be sent straight to the battlefield (which won't happen due to security) I can only see more information increasing the logjam."

      Did you even read the whole article?

  9. regadpellagru
    Facepalm

    I'm thinking

    Where are all those things gonna crash, at the end of their short service period ?

    It is pretty tricky to forecast the landing of any orbital object (when unpropelled), so, hopefully, they'll leave some fuel in, to ensure landing outside of, say, middle of London.

    1. MahFL22

      Re: I'm thinking

      They will burn up, having been designed to do so, after all they are quite small, hence the word "disposable".

    2. Suricou Raven

      Re: I'm thinking

      When a sat burns up, there is nothing left. Except the biggest ones - the gyro wheels are durable things, but if there is any risk of debris making it to ground level intact the operators would just aim for ocean.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm thinking

      They should add a wee bit of reentry control, an ablative shield and some tungsten for mass. It would make a nice hole somewhere when it lands behind enemy lines. This could be made into a selectable feature by having a heat shield jettison system (burn up or whack-a-mole).

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. mickey mouse the fith

        Re: I'm thinking

        I thought that as well, it would make a nice kinetic weapon, although you want to make sure it disintergrates into unrecoverable bits and theres no tech left for the enemy to reverse engineer. So no aiming it at lakes or matress factorys.

        Another thought springs to mind, Is there any reason they cant design these to be recovered and reused?, seems a bit of a waste to discard them after a few months.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    Disposable

    Well as long as they don't become the bottled water of space as we have enough junk up there as it is. That said we could just add to the junk and call it a asteroid defence sheild and cut down on sunshine whilst we are at it.

    Maybe the Reg could compete as they have already demonstrated putting something into very high orbit and also recovered it so they have 100% recyle track record as is and very good costings. It is a thought.

    1. ukgnome Silver badge

      Re: Disposable

      I was thinking similar thoughts myself, we don't need more orbitals, we need to clean the space around our globe.

      I'm hoping redbull have a "build a frikken laser" competition.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Unhappy

      Re: Disposable

      Didn't they lose one recently? And the fearless Playmonaut, as well?

    3. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Disposable

      The article states that the orbit is low enough that it will decay over time burning up in the earth's atmosphere. Since these are small enough devices, I seriously doubt that anything of size would be left to even hit the surface of the planet.

      Of course if this were mainly 2KG of depleted uranium... launched at the surface from that hight?

      That could be a different story...

  11. peyton?
    Facepalm

    24 seems conservative

    "burning up a month or two later when the mission has been accomplished."

    While no doubt, the 'powers that be' think our "missions" will last a month or two, I'm pretty sure they usually run considerably longer than that.

    1. Ledswinger Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: 24 seems conservative

      No problem, chuck up some more. The taxpayer's pocket is bottomless, so the inherent waste doesn't matter.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Should have named them

    Hazard

    Area

    Logistical

    Forward

    Observer

    Remotely

    Deployable

    "Out here in space

    Looking down on you

    My lasers trace

    every thing you do"

  13. shouldbworking
    Big Brother

    Apples and oranges..

    Even with $36m only buying 9 predators, I'm pretty sure those can be used more than once.

    I'm hoping I'm missing the point and that this is for something infinitely harder to obtain than aerial imagery - maybe dealing with somewhere that air supremacy isn't a given (hah! doubt the politicians will go for that one), or perhaps providing a temporary boost in satellite data capacity to allow a boatload more uavs to operate...

    1. Dave Hilling

      Re: Apples and oranges..

      Ok then build a drone that flies at 120,000 ft. Not many other planes can do that, and most of the time spy planes didnt actually enter the countries airspace because at that height you usually didnt need to, to see what you wanted to see.

    2. karlp
      Mushroom

      Re: Apples and oranges..

      There are actually loads of justifications I can think of.

      I think the real point though is the one mentioned above.

      The current network of observation satellites have no good way of getting data directly to the people who potentially have the most use of it.

      Why not just make the current system do/support that? My guess is that they can't. The multi-billlion dollar spy sats that are up there right now seem, more or less, all or nothing affairs that are live all the time and designed to be directed and downlinked only from very limited locales. I would also be surprised if they had any sort of access control built in (AKA, there is a reasonable chance that they _can't_ black out something, aka they can be used to spy on anything that happens to be in their FOV).

      In order to open up sat surveillance to a wider group it would seem that we need all sorts of things such as the ability to talk to multiple people simultaneously, to be able to be controlled from one location and video downlinked from many more. to have control over who can access it when, where it needs to black out, be cheap enough that no one is going to overly balk at a wider range of people operating it (no one wants a field grunt of any type to have control over something that costs billions with a b, it just won't happen), etc.

      Once you get down into it, it probably makes sense for them to be different systems with different capabilities. If someone wants to say that it also gives the US a leg up on the Chinese sat-killing rockets, (put them up almost as fast as someone else can shoot them down), then all the merrier.

      Just a WAG on my part, but one which feels something close to realistic.

      Karl P

  14. Surreal
    Big Brother

    The Bic lighter of surveillance. Nice!

    Disposable, easily deployed satellites are an elegant counter to China's Satellite Killin' Technology. Imo.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: The Bic lighter of surveillance. Nice!

      Counter? More like a target.

      Wake me up when these are the size of a grape and can accelerate at 10G- I'll be zipped up in the acceleration tank...

      1. Surreal

        Re: The Bic lighter of surveillance. Nice!

        I'd guess* that a satellite capable of shooting down another would be more expensive, in materials at least, than one that just hangs up there doing more normal satellite kinda stuff. Do you prefer The Doritos of Surveillance? "Shoot down all you want, we'll make more!"

        * dammit hplasm, I'm a geek, not a Defense Contractor / Population Control Technician!

  15. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I wonder how long they worked to see if they could get a "K" into the penultimate position in the name.

    Meanwhile, the Chinese just work at putting people into orbit long-term. People, also known as fully autonomous intelligence units.

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