Military Aims to Track Ballistic Missiles with Tiny Satellites
Ballistic missiles and even stealth aircraft might be detectable by a global tracking system that's on the wish list of the U.S. Army Strategic Missiles and Space Command.
The system would rely upon a network of super-light softball-sized nanosatellites that could piggyback on the rocket launches for other missions. Once deployed, the small satellites would use passive radar to detect ultra-high frequency signals – emitted by cell towers and military radios as well as other satellites – that the aircraft or missile would reflect.
Such a satellite-based system also could help pinpoint the site of aircraft accidents, track planes with turned-off transponders, and home in on the SOS signals of ships at sea.
Calculating the time difference of when the reflected signals reach different satellites would allow the system to figure out the target's location, speed, and predicted flight path. An advanced system might even be able to identify the missile or aircraft.
None of that can happen until someone steps forward with an idea for putting the system into place, but that's why the Army is reaching out to innovators through the Small Business Innovation Research program. The project's three phases include refining the radar concept and the number of satellites needed for such a system to work, and then demonstrating prototype radar that can work alongside air and missile defense.
Any innovator or company that succeeds with the project also could expect some interest from the Federal Aviation Agency for adopting it as a backup system for tracking the tens of thousands of jetliners flying each day. Perhaps the Drug Enforcement Agency would want it, too, for following aircraft or ships suspected of use in drug trafficking.
In other news, NASA's next-to-last shuttle mission is scheduled to carry three tiny cracker-sized satellites into space.