U.S. Army prepares to launch Kestrel Eye satellite atop Falcon 9

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The U.S. Army is set to launch its Kestrel Eye electro-optical microsatellite Aug. 14 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, service officials said last week at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium.

The Kestrel Eye satellite, built by Adcole Maryland Aerospace, is due to launch from Cape Canaveral as part of a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station, Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, said during the symposium.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket the morning of its planned Aug. 14 launch to the International Space Station. Credit: Craig Vander Galien for SpaceNews.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket the morning of its planned Aug. 14 launch to the International Space Station. Credit: Craig Vander Galien for SpaceNews.

“Once aboard the International Space Station, the crew will deploy this small satellite,” he said. That deployment, Army officials noted, will take place after the Japanese module airlock experiment is scheduled.

Following that deployment, Dickinson said, “We will be able to measure the utility of the Kestrel Eye through a series of tactical exercises.”

The Army developed Kestrel Eye as a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration. With Kestrel Eye, he said, the Army will try to show the military benefits of downlinking “near real-time situational awareness” directly to the brigade combat team by providing satellite imagery via a data relay network without the need for relays routed through the continental United States.

Kestrel Eye’s purpose, he said, is to “reduce tactical surprise” and “achieve overmatch at the squad level” by demonstrating operational prototype nanosatellites that make it possible to capture space-based tactical-level intelligence and situational awareness and make synchronized mission-command decisions on the move.

“The intent is that it will better enable the ground commander to have better access (to space intelligence),” Dickinson told SpaceNews. “It will be responsive to the combat team commander.”

He said, “We’ve built the ground station. Now we’re deploying the satellite.”

Depending on the results of the demonstration, the Army has plans to potentially launch dozens of satellites with similar operational capabilities into low-Earth orbit.

Due to its smaller size, the Army says, a Kestrel Eye constellation of 50-kilogram satellites provides dramatically lower unit cost than “typical space-based assets.”

The Army estimates the cost to be less than $2 million per satellite “in production mode” with an operational life for each spacecraft of about one year.