Soldiers watch as the Army puts a new satellite to the test

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Soldiers in every era need the same thing, good intelligence about their battlefield and about the enemy. Getting that intelligence now is why the Army has developed a whole series of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.  To be successful, soldiers need to know, "The enemy will not know when this is overhead, and therefore they cannot adjust what they are doing knowing that a sensor system is nearby," said Chip Hardy, the Kestrel Eye Program Manager for the Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal.

The sensor system Chip Hardy is talking about is the Kestrel Eye. It's a small camera satellite that would be placed in Earth orbit. It would be used in groups, called constellations, to give war fighters a look from above at the entire battlefield. It would look something like a google earth view of Huntsville, or Madison County. Not the detail of someone's face or even a license number, but enough information to inform Commanders.

Kestrel Eye, in development since 2008, is about to get its first test in real conditions. "In order for the program to go further, to actually be fully developed and make a constellation...be employed by the Army, it needs to have a successful demonstration," Hardy said.

The demonstration begins with a Space X resupply mission to the International Space Station. The Kestrel Eye satellite will catch a ride when the launch happens from Kennedy Space Center on August, 10th. Astronauts will use the station's robotic arm to put Kestrel Eye in low Earth orbit on August 21st.  Then the Army's Pacific Command will put the observation satellite through its paces.

The year of testing is intended to show that Kestrel Eye, when deployed in groups,  can work as designed. "Such that there is one frequently overhead to provide the situational awareness data before you start an operation," Hardy said. "So that if conditions have changed, you get to do a last-minute check before the operation begins."

He said the team is excited about the upcoming demonstration of the project on which they've worked so hard.  He also said he's confident the Kestrel Eye will work as designed.

If the satellite works and is put into production by the Army, each unit would cost about $2,000,000, and while that is a lot of money.  The large observation satellites cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and Hardy said they are not available for quick operation and communication like Kestrel Eye will be.