WASHINGTON — Millennium Space Systems of Torrance, Calif., will design and develop production plans for six prototype satellites and 24 operational small satellites for imagery gathering under a $1.91 million contract with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the company announced Jan. 29.

The contract covers the first of three planned phases in DARPA’s low-cost Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements, or SeeMe, program, intended to provide on-demand tactical imagery to mobile U.S. forces at the press of a button. In May 2012, the agency announced it would award a series of contracts, worth up to $45 million for the program.

Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., in December announced it had received a Phase 1 SeeMe small-satellite design contract valued at $1.5 million over a nine-month period. Raytheon said its partners on that contract are Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev., the University of Arizona and SRI International of Arlington, Va., and that the team, if selected for Phase 2 of the program, would build six satellites for ground testing.

“Leveraging our state-of-the-art missile assembly lines, we can mass produce these small, lightweight satellites quickly and affordably,” Tom Bussing, vice president of advanced missile systems at Raytheon Missile Systems, said in a prepared statement. “As the world’s only producer of exoatmospheric kill vehicles, we are already developing and building hardware to space standards.”

Exoatmopheric kill vehicles are highly maneuverable systems that are used to destroy missile warheads as they travel through space by force of impact. Raytheon builds the exoatmospheric kill vehicles that top U.S. missile interceptors.

SeeMe addresses a longstanding complaint that the “lowest echelon” U.S. military forces cannot quickly obtain satellite imagery. When fully operational, the constellation of satellites would provide persistent surveillance of a specific area, with coverage gaps limited to 90 minutes, making it more difficult for adversaries to hide their activities.

“SeeMe is a great fit for Millennium’s culture of providing affordable, responsive, and on-time delivery of complex flight systems,” Mike Scardera, Millennium’s SeeMe program manager, said in a prepared statement.

Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...