Satellite Communications

Navy's nano-satellites could boost tactical communications

Military organizations have been exploring a number of ways to cut the costs of satellite operations, from reusable launch vehicles to ride-sharing arrangements with commercial satellite operators.

The Navy also is thinking small, with a project to use nano-satellites that would hitch rides with larger satellites and, once in orbit, could be used to extend the range of satellite communications or support a specific mission.

The Program Executive Office Space Systems, with support from Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, is developing a low-cost nano-satellite called the Integrated Communications Extension Capability, or ICE-Cap that would be less than a foot long and weigh less than 25 pounds. ICE-Cap would catch a ride on a larger satellite that has room for it, then be shot into its own orbit from a spring-loaded canister, according to the Defense Department’s Armed With Science website.

A launch is scheduled for 2015, after which ICE-Cap is expected to demonstrate its ability to relay a communications signal from the North Pole half-way around the world, and use the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System to send data to users on secure networks. Earlier this year, the Navy used MUOS, a narrowband satellite system designed to improve communications for forces on the move, to provide more than 150 hours of secure data connections from the Arctic during its 2014 Ice Exercise.

The models for ICE-Cap are CubeSats—small, inexpensive satellites (a third the size of ICE-Cap) often built by students and used in a variety of ways. NASA, for instance, has launched CubeSats (in this case, called PhoneSats) built from off-the-shelf smartphones that can transmit data and images back to Earth or to each other.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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