Space: March 8, 2005


The U.S. Department of Defense has shown great interest in commercial nanosatellites (which weigh as little as 15 pounds, or less) for military use. The rapid advances in communications and sensor technology during the last decade have made it possible to build a useful reconnaissance satellite weighing under ten pounds. A tiny satellite like this would include solar panels, to provide power. British firm Surrey Satellite Technology LTD has pioneered this technology, and made it possible to get scientific satellites in orbit for a fraction of the usual price. Military uses would be reconnaissance and electronic warfare, as well as satellite destruction, or defense. These tiny satellites also have the advantage of being much more difficult to be tracked from the ground. If there are successful satellite attacks, then the nonosatellites can be sent up to replace the lost birds. The lightweight satellites (Surrey has a line of standard small satellites, from 15-900 pounds) can be put in orbit using smaller, solid fuel, boosters. The navy has proposed using the ICBMs fired from SSBNs (ballistic missile carrying nuclear subs), which can be put to work much more quickly than the usual liquid fueled launcher. But the solid fuel ICBMs can only put a ton or so (usually less) into orbit. With nanosatellites, this is not a problem. With Surreys standard nanaosatellites, sold ready for the installation of your own payload, its pretty clear what the military minisats would look like, and how they would get into orbit.


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