Fans of the television show “24” often watch fictional counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer wipe out adversary cells even though he is often severely outnumbered.
In his favor, he usually has real-time satellite locations of his enemies sent to his personal digital assistant so that he is always one step ahead.
In reality, warfighters do not have such reliable and useful information at their fingertips. Troops on the ground often have to wait several hours for satellite pictures, giving terrorists plenty of time to change their positions or leave the area entirely. Terrorists are quite adept at hiding their locations after acclimating to years of aerial reconnaissance.
If the Tactical Satelite-3 is a success, warfighters will be one step closer to having that advantage portrayed in the TV show. The spacecraft will house the Advance Responsive Tactically Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer, or ARTEMIS, a hyperspectral imager and two other components.
Many forms of camouflage will not fool the hyperspectral scans and will leave terrorists even fewer places to hide. Warfighters also will receive their intelligence in a matter of minutes instead of hours, giving them an opportunity to strike while the information is still fresh.
Thom Davis is the program manager for the TacSat-3. His team of engineers and contractors at the Air Force Research Laboratory here has been working to ensure the hardware is integrated properly and testing some of the components that have never been used in space before. He said that feedback from battlefield commanders has been positive.
“They are very excited this is a capability that they don’t have,” he said. “They can’t wait to give this a test run, and hopefully it can save some lives and make their jobs a bit easier.”
The launch date for the satellite is tentatively scheduled for October. The program is programmed to cost about $80 million. Mr. Davis said that costs were kept down by sticking to a small team and not making many changes to the process once they started.
Capt. Jennifer Guarneiri, a test engineer at the research laboratory, has been working on the project for a year. She said that running scripts and testing the payload has been exciting work.
“You uncover new things everyday,” she said. “You have to go through the process methodically. All of the work will be worth it if even one life is saved.”