Kestrel Eye
The Kestrel Eye microsatellite will demonstrate technologies for use in a potential future constellation of imaging satellites. Credit: U.S. Army

With the recent launch of its Kestrel Eye electro-optical microsatellite as an Army testbed, Adcole Maryland Aerospace is in the hunt for other related government and commercial business, company President Glen Cameron said.

Already, both commercial and government potential customers have sought contracts or shown interest in the microsatellite system or its components, Cameron said.

“Most of the immediate, short-term interest has come primarily from commercial customers,” he said. “They like to lean forward a little. The interest from the government is very much ‘wait and see’ how the system performs.”

Adcole already has seen a great deal of interest from companies looking to build on what’s been accomplished with Kestrel Eye, said Ken Bocam, program manager.

“While some are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach,” he said, “for others, the mere fact that the hardware has been built and delivered and so forth — that it’s been through qualification testing, which is not a cakewalk — they’ve already engaged us to build on this technology.”

The Army test mission could prove to be a boon for the Crofton, Maryland-based company, the result of a May merger between Adcole and Maryland Aerospace. “This essentially puts us on the map and proves our capabilities to deliver spacecraft and spacecraft components and especially how to work at the full-mission level,” Bocam said.

“We’ve had the opportunity to get it built and launched and hopefully demonstrated in space,” he said. “There is opportunity for us to capitalize on this.”

The company has developed a small spacecraft platform it calls the Magic Bus, a Kestrel Eye derivative, he said, for commercial markets.

“We can accommodate a lot of different payloads that are of interest to commercial and government customers,” he said. “The dimensions are such, with easy scaling, the Magic Bus can be used for lot of secondary launches, including shared launches with other satellites. The dimensions really maximize the rideshare opportunities out there to accommodate sensors and payloads.”

While it tracks commercial and other government business opportunities, the company is also anxiously awaiting the deployment of its Kestrel Eye Army microsatellite, which launched Aug. 14 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral as part of a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The satellite will be deployed by the space-station crew after a Japanese Experiment Module airlock opening is scheduled. The station’s arm will place Kestrel Eye into position and release it for deployment in the fall, possibly in October, Bocam said.

Then the satellite will be powered up and checked out, he said, a procedure that could run a couple of weeks. Once the Army and the rest of the Kestrel Eye team feel assured the satellite is functioning properly, it will start its military assessment and demonstration, which could be completed by the end of the year.

“At the conclusion of the military utility assessment,” Bocam said, “if there is orbital lifetime remaining – and at the prerogative of the Defense Department, the Army primarily – there may be an opportunity to utilize the spacecraft for any residual operations.”

The Army wants to demonstrate how a nanosatellite can capture space-based, tactical-level intelligence and help a ground commander avoid tactical surprise, said Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

The Army wants to show the military benefits of downlinking satellite imagery via a data-relay network without the need for relays routed through the continental United States.

“Based on the military assessment they may come back to us and ask us to enhance the vehicle, if they want to move to an operational system,” Cameron said.

“Or if this goes to the next stage,” he said, “the Army could decide to fund a full constellation, moving us to the production of dozens of spacecraft – they are talking as many as 60. That would be a significant challenge.”

One, he said, he’d like to face.

Mike Fabey is SpaceNews' senior staff writer covering military and national security space matters. Mike previously covered as Defense News’ air and space warfare reporter in 2005 and 2006. Mike was an Aviation Week...