The U.S. Army looks towards the future and has big plans for its own satellite launches

After a 50-year hiatus from launching its own satellites, the United States Army plans to build and launch miniature communications satellites.

As part of the $5 million Operationally Responsive Space program, engineers met in March to begin drafting the most logical methods of satellite deployments for the military.

The program was started in May 2007 after Congress wanted the Army to reconsider its plans for the future of satellite construction and launches.  Most military satellite launches are done by either the Air Force and Navy.

When the U.S. military first began launching communications satellites into orbit, starting in 1946, the Army had its hand in a number of early launch successes.  The Army was the first branch to have radar contact with the moon, which took place in 1946.  

This latest push by Congress is "a pathfinder project to fulfill an urgent need for beyond line of sight communications capabilities," said Space and Missile Defense chief of strategy James Lee.  

The "cubesats" typically measure about 30 inches wide and weigh just five pounds, but will give Army ground troops proper communications in regions of the world where no secure satellite communications have been arranged.  In some parts of Africa, for example, the Army must rely on third-party contractors and commercial vendors for communication uplinks.

"We feel it's important to have experience at an engineering level to build space capabilities, even if it's as simple as a cubesat," Lee said.

Engineers will work with a company called MilTec for the first six satellites, with the Space and Missile Defense Command having full construction for the remaining two satellites.  The Army is working with MilTec for the first few satellites because while Army engineers have the proper knowledge and expertise, they lack hands-on experience they will gain working with a contractor.  

Army officials expect to launch all eight cubesats together, on a Falcon or Minotaur rocket.  

It is unknown when the government would begin construction on the satellites, or when they will be launched into orbit.

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