Rocket to Launch 'Spy In the Sky' Satellite In Virginia

Associated Press + More

STEVE SZKOTAK
Associated Press Writer

RICHMOND, Va.—A satellite scheduled for launch from Virginia's Eastern Shore is designed to detect hidden enemy weapons and deliver their locations to U.S. combat troops, scientists testing the technology say.

The information would be especially suited to battle conditions in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, where the Obama administration is sending more troops.

If successful, the satellite could be developed for battlefield use in a year or two after its one-year orbit, according to scientists. It hopes to detect hidden tanks, buried explosives and other military equipment hidden by camoflauge.

The Air Force TacSet-3 satellite is scheduled to begin its orbit Tuesday, when a 69-foot-high Minotaur 1 rocket is set to blast off between 8 and 11 p.m. from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Atlantic. The rocket will also carry two secondary science experiments, including one involving yeast cells.

Scientists are hopeful the 880-pound satellite atop the $60 million spacecraft will deliver images and information with the speed and detail depicted in fictionalized movie accounts, such as Transformers.

Unlike Predator drones, which deliver black-and-white snapshots of activity that take time to analyze, the Raytheon Co. satellite will offer a rainbow of hyperspectral images — 400 different spectrums — and deliver them in 10 minutes.

It will orbit at 264 miles above Earth.

"What that enables you to do is to look down at the battlefield and determine if you have, say, a tank under a tree," said Edward Gussin, Raytheon's program manager for ARTEMIS — or advanced responsive tactically effective military imaging spectrometer.

"That would be extremely valuable information without having to put people's lives at risk," Col. Scott Handy, mission director, said of the battlefield data the satellite could deliver.

Beyond peering through trees and camouflage, images supplied by ARTEMIS would also reveal heavily traveled routes on dirt roads, signaling troop movements. "We're at the forefront of what is now capable," he said.

After its test in space, "We're going to have a very good assessment for the operational utility of this kind of system," one of the project's scientists, Peter Wegner, said in a conference call this week from Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, Calif.

The NASA launch will be from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island. The spaceport is a cooperative venture, involving the states of Virginia and Maryland and Old Dominion University.

The spaceport is destined to see more launches under a nearly $2 billion NASA contract with Orbital Sciences of Dulles to fly eight cargo missions to the international space station.

A spokesman said planning and design phases of the launch pad are under way and construction should start later this summer.

Orbital officials have said they plan to demonstrate the new launch rocket in late 2010.

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On the Web: NASA Wallops