"Todays military satellites "take about two minutes to transfer a simple photo," Defense News notes. "That same image could take about 23 seconds on the next-generation Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, which will start to go up in the next few years."The third wave of U.S. orbiters, scheduled for launch in the mid-2010s, "could move the image in far less than a second." And they'd use lasers to do it.
Such blinding speed could finally bring to life the Pentagons visions of networked sensors and shooters unmanned aerial vehicles, Joint Strike Fighters, warships and troops on the ground trading instant images and video anywhere in the world.The Air Force's Transformational Satellite System (TSAT) program got off the ground about two years ago.. Boeing and Lockheed, which each have half-billion-dollar contracts to develop initial TSAT systems, are competing for a final production contract to be awarded in a year or so. Both have reported initial success in basic laser communications and other features.TSAT will offer jam-proof radio and laser connections to compact surface receivers. Instead of lugging around brick-sized satellite phones, troops will sport BlackBerries that deliver space intelligence on the run.Sounds great. But the Air Force figures it'll take $12-$18 billion to put the five-satellite constellation in orbit. And, given the military space program's track record of legendarily large screw-ups, it's far from clear whether Congress will pony up for TSAT.
During the 2005 budget process, lawmakers cut $300 million from the $775 million request. In 2006, the Air Force is asking for $836 million. The House Armed Services Committee has recommended only about half that be approved, while the Senate Armed Services would like a cut of about $200 million.THERE'S MORE: The Air Force is adding four more anti-satellite jammers to its arsenal of orbiter stoppers, Inside Defense reports.