DARPA, which handles research for the US military, is looking for industry input on a new system that would let soldiers get on-demand satellite images of any area. The Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program aims to build about two dozen small satellites to be sent one at a time into low-earth orbit, where they would stay for 60 to 90 days each before burning up on re-entry. Once deployed, the satellites would allow soldiers to "hit 'see me' on existing handheld devices and in less than 90 minutes receive a satellite image of their precise location," says program manager Dave Barnhart.
The SeeMe satellites are meant to be more versatile than DARPA's existing drone imaging tools and cheaper than other airborne alternatives. In order to meet these requirements, they'll need to be able to launch quickly into any orbit and cost less than $500,000 apiece. That's not exactly cheap, but it's far less than the cost of comparable long-term satellites. DARPA has put out a call to a variety of industries to help with the project; it's also looking at building off its existing ALASA launching program. Who knows — maybe they'll find a way to build the new satellites out of space junk as well.