Hugh Pickens writes writes: "BBC reports that the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has invited manufacturers to propose squads of disposable mini-satellites costing about $500,000 each capable of providing reconnaissance to soldiers at the press of a button. "We envision a constellation of small satellites, at a fraction of the cost of airborne systems, that would allow deployed warfighters to hit 'see me' on existing handheld devices and in less than 90 minutes receive a satellite image of their precise location to aid in mission planning," says the agency. The US Army already has access to drone aircraft to provide intelligence from the skies and last year announced that new helicopter-style machines equipped with 1.8 gigapixel cameras will soon go into service in Afghanistan. However, Darpa says such unmanned aircraft cannot cover extended territory without frequent refuelling. The SeeMe constellation will consist of some two-dozen satellites, each lasting 60-90 days in a very low-earth orbit before de-orbiting and completely burning up, leaving no space debris and causing no re-entry hazard. "With a SeeMe constellation, we hope to directly support warfighters in multiple deployed overseas locations simultaneously with no logistics or maintenance costs beyond the warfighters' handhelds," says program manager Dave Barnhart."
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