Situational awareness for war fighters at a reasonable cost

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - For war fighters in the field, having what they need from basic equipment to food and water is crucial. It's safe to say that when things get dangerous, having information might be the "most" important thing.  That would be the biggest reason the Army loves the Shadow Unmanned Aerial System. It provides great reconnaissance, but there is the chance that an enemy could know the Shadow was on the job.

Chip Hardy, Manger of the Space and Missile Defense Command's Kestrel Eye project, said the Kestrel overcomes this limitation.

"The enemy will not know when this is overhead," he stated.

Kestrel is a small observation satellite intended to be launched in groups, called constellations. They would provide visual observation, information if you will, for troops operating in the field.  The intelligence would come from the secrecy of low Earth orbit.

But a demonstration was necessary to prove Kestrel's design.

"In order for the program to go further, to actually be fully developed and make a constellation, be deployed by the Army, it needs to have a successful demonstration," Hardy added.

That demonstration is now in the books. In 2017, a SpaceX flight to the International Space Station included the Kestrel test article. The satellite was released into low Earth orbit by astronauts. For some 10 months it was put through its paces.  The goal was to show the observation satellite could successfully fulfill its purpose of providing information to troops on the ground.

"[The ultimate goal is] to provide you with situational awareness data before you start an operation, so that if conditions changed, you get to do a last minute check before the operation begins," Hardy explained.

In other words, vital information for troops going in harm's way, and the Kestrel Eye team said the satellite did what it was supposed to do.

No one is saying when or if the Kestrel program will get to the deployment stage. Soldiers heading into a dangerous mission won't be using it right now, but the folks in charge now know it's on the list of technology that works.