Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tiny cooperative spacecraft project

DARPA is taking a serious look at mitigating the threat from ASAT weapons by putting some functions on 4.5-kg satellites called Tiny Independent Coordinated Spacecraft or TICS (TICS). These would be launched on need from a fighter plane by boosters not much larger than current air-launched missiles.

COMMENT: While modern advances in miniature computers and communications
technology make this practical, the basic rocket-from-a-fighter-jet can trace its origin to Project Pilot, or "NOTSNIK," the semi-official satellite program created by Navy
physicists and engineers in 1958. Their five-stage, 1,000-lb launch vehicle tried to orbit a 1-kg satellite and may actually have succeeded once, though the orbit was short-lived. This was not the model for Pegasus, whose designer was unaware of the project until I mentioned it to him once at the Conference on Small Satellites, but AFRL did try a couple of years ago to revive the idea, on two tracks, one working with DARPA on an impractically complex and expensive
launch aircraft (that's been killed), and then one using an F-15 or F-22 launch vehicle carrier. AFRL officers were likewise surprised that someone had actually done this and that some documentation survived (though not much), and I sent them what I had compiled. So I like to think I (and the oft-overlooked value of knowing history) made some contributions here.
The program is discussed in my book The First Space Race (Texas A&M
University Press, 2004)

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