August 13, 2012
Credit: Credit: Rafael
David Eshel Tel Aviv
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is developing a new microsatellite concept optimized for operationally responsive space (ORS), offering tactical users rapid access to near-real-time, high-resolution satellite imagery to augment aerial reconnaissance obtained by aircraft and UAVs.
The core of the system is based on Rafael's LiteSat design, a new microsatellite platform with a maximum weight of 100 kg (220 lb.). The satellite is configured with small, compatible airborne launch methods. This concept would, supposedly, offer a low-cost alternative to satellite launchers on the ground. An airborne launch from a fighter such as the F-15 could be performed at high altitude, high speed and a steep angle, enabling a relatively small launcher such as Rafael's Sparrow ballistic missile target to place a light payload in low Earth orbit (LEO).
Theoretically, such miniature satellites packed into Silver Sparrow-type missiles—in development for the testing of Arrow 3 interceptors—could be maintained by Israeli air force reconnaissance units to be deployed in times of crisis to fill any intelligence gaps required for operations.
Deployed as single microsatellites or satellite constellation of nanosatellites, these assets would enable nearly continuous coverage of areas of interest, with high-revisit frequency, offering ORS deployment.
Rafael's LiteSat concept is based on a small platform packed in a 5-ft.-long, 1-ft.-wide envelope. The company is proposing two types of satellites: a 100-kg hydrazine-propelled and an 85-kg electrically propelled platform. The latter employs a state-of-the-art Hall-Effect propulsion system, also produced by Rafael, to be launched on the first mission in 2014 with the Israeli-French Venus satellite. This propulsion system converts solar energy into ionic-charged thrust, sustaining the satellite in LEO for extended missions that would have been prohibitive for hydrazine-propelled satellites, given the large volumes of propellants needed to keep the satellite in orbit.
According to Yaaqov Sharony, microsatellite programs manager in Rafael's Space Systems Directorate, the satellite is designed to operate in LEO at an altitude of 400 km for missions lasting up to seven years. The payload will comprise a panchromatic and thermal-imaging system offering “sub-metric” resolution from that altitude. Payload control and image processing will utilize the company's Imilite imagery intelligence processing, management and dissemination systems that are supporting aerial reconnaissance and UAVs.