Spy Video from Space

Ball Aerospace is working on a key component of a demonstration telescope under a DARPA program to develop full-motion video surveillance from satellites in geosynchronous orbit, reports Graham Warwick at Aviation Week’s Ares Blog.

DARPA’s Membrane Optic Imager Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE) program would give a geosynchronous satellite the ability to unfurl a micro-thin diffractive-optics membrane, forming a massive segmented lens. Ball plans to demonstrate the manufacturability of a 20 meter telescope, using the technology.

The goal is the development of a large, lightweight, geosynchronous space-based telescope using advanced diffractive optics membrane to provide persistent, real-time, tactical video to the war fighter. A 20-meter-diameter lens would be able to image an area greater than 100 x 100 km with a video update rate of at least one frame a second, reports Aviation Week.

Other key technologies needed for the program are lightweight structures able to stabilize the membrane optics, secondary optical elements that can turn the diffraction lenses into an imaging device, and image stabilization and geolocation.

The KH-9 (Hexagon) was the early 1960s replacement for the earlier Corona spy satellites that delivered sub-2 meter resolution from an orbit of 100 miles by 150 miles. It used a f/3.0 folded Wright Camera, with a focal length of 60 in (1.5 m).

Bio-Rad offers world’s largest collection of IR spectra that might be handy for interpretation, identification, verification, and classification of hyper-spectral data. But live, two meter resolution from geosynchronous space (pdf) might be a lofty goal — especially if it’s cloudy.

Large antennas planned for space include the James Webb Space Telescope, Single Aperture Far-Infrared Observatory, Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope, International X-ray Observatory and NRO’s geosynchronous satellites with 328 ft antennas. Ball Aerospace is the principal optical subcontractor for the JWST program, led by prime contractor Northrop Grumman.

Iran may have captured Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 drone, which uses full-motion video on a single-channel — but that’s considered passe by CIA hipsters. The single-sensor capability is now being multiplied by 65 times, with a compound eye.

The BAS-developed, Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (Argus-IS or Gorgon Stare) combines wide-area coverage (40 sq. km) and 15-cm-resolution detail and may soon be on sentry duty in Afghanistan.

The A-160 drone helicopter can track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet equipped with the 1.8 gigapixel Argus sensor, and scan almost 25 square miles.

TacSat-4 flies in a highly elliptical 4-hour orbit, allowing 1 to 2-hour dwells on each pass. Handheld satphone radios don’t need antennas pointed directly at a satellite. If you need real-time sensor data from buoys a couple hundred miles off the coast, that kind of loitering could fill a niche.

Three wideband Cisco Space Routers in polar Molniya orbit might tie the Northern hemisphere together (simulation).

Meanwhile, Canada’s Radarsat 2 satellite was successfully launched more than a year ago while high resolution sat photos can be ordered from GeoEye, DigitalGlobe and Spot and are used on Google Maps and Microsoft Live.

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