REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. --There's hitching a ride, and there's HITCHING A RIDE. The Kestrel Eye satellite did the latter. A few weeks ago the "Small Sat" as it's called caught a ride on the SpaceX mission to re-supply the International Space Station. Kestrel Eye is an observation satellite developed by the Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal. They were excited when astronauts aboard the station released the satellite into orbit last October.
Now the satellite is cruising about 200 miles above the Earth as all its various systems are checked out. The satellite's eventual mission will be using on board optics to observe small sections of land on earth for the military. The first images haven't and won't be transmitted for a while. "Well, it is a little frustrating, like the excitement at Christmas time say, but the same token, there's been so much time and so much money spent on this program that we want to make sure we get it right," said Chip Hardy, the Kestrel Eye Program Manager.
Eventually, the program hopes that the small observation satellites might be launched in groups and orbit continuously over an area of operation. "The enemy will not know when this is overhead," said Hardy. To that advantage, you add the fact that the satellite is relatively cheap and can be purposed for a particular area for a long period of time.
The developers have a wish list for this test mission. "I hope we show the ability to first show from a technical view that we can reliably provide images rapidly, and then from an application point of view, I hope we can show that makes a difference to the soldier on the ground," said Chip Hardy.
There is another use that Kestrel Eye might be well suited for, and that's observation of something like a hurricane disaster area. "You could rapidly get knowledge on the ground of what is changing, where damage is, where help is needed," said Hardy.
The bottom line for this satellite, which is smaller than the toolbox on a pickup truck, is what happens in orbit. Folks at Redstone Arsenal will be watching the tests very closely. They believe they'll be successful, but only time will tell that.