September 12, 1997
The Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite, or ARGOS, is one of the newest space programs being managed under the Air Force Space Test Program of the Space and Missile Test and Evaluation Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
This satellite will incorporate a broad spectrum of technologies and activities, such as testing high-temperature superconducting components, characterizing atmospheric models to improve space object re-entry predictions, and performing orbital transfers with an electric propulsion engine.
Another facet involves the next step to Global Positioning System capabilities by using an X-ray source to obtain a satellite's proper altitude and time-keeping for accurate space navigation. Other aspects of the mission will focus on upper-atmospheric "space weather" dynamics and sensor technology that have applications for the international space station.
"In order to manage nine diverse experiments in orbit, we'll be relaying an unprecedented 9.6 gigabits of experiment data per day," said Air Force Capt Gregory T. Settles, spacecraft mission manager. "By teaming with software developers from the University of Colorado in Boulder, an automated mission planning tool is being developed to help manage daily experiment operations.
"We're also in the process of pioneering inexpensive off-the-shelf technology to record high-satellite data downlink rates up to 5 megabits per second," added Settles. "Our directorate's new Research Support Complex at Kirtland, will serve as the nerve center for satellite operations and data processing capabilities."
ARGOS is set to launch aboard an Air Force Delta II launch vehicle from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Co-manifested on the launch vehicle will be two non-Department of Defense payloads: ORSTED from Denmark and SUNSAT from South Africa, first-time satellite launches for both countries.
Settles noted that a coalition of international space test teams from these countries and the United States were assembled for this launch, making this particular mission of special interest to the international space community. He added that this reflects the high-ranking nature and importance of these micro-satellite missions. The principal integration and development for these payloads are managed by the NASA Orbital Launch Services Project.
"Just as the Air Force Space Test Program has pioneered technology for military satellites like DSP (Defense Support Program), MILSTAR (Military Strategic and Tactical Relay), GPS (Global Positioning System), and DMSP (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program)," remarked Settles, "ARGOS will provide the technology push for the next generation of operational satellites.
"In a lot of ways the many educational and technological spin-offs generated by investing in space tests, benefit us all," explained Settles.
He believes the future will see fledgling commercial companies exploiting space technologies to make today's cutting edge computers lightning-fast while using a lot less energy.
"Or, one day, powering your cell phone 1,000 times longer on a single charge," said Settles. "Or, better yet, providing low-cost micro-satellite service to directly beam you traffic, news and entertainment information anywhere on the planet."
Air Force News Photo:
Workers prepare the Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite, or ARGOS, for testing.