A digital illustration of a network of satellites around the Earth. Visual: Andriy Onufriyenko/Moment via Getty Images
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Earth’s Orbit Is About to Get More Crowded
The military is launching a fleet of small, interconnected satellites to collect data, track missiles, and aim weapons.
SOMETIME THIS COMING March, a network of 10 small satellites winged with solar panels is scheduled to launch into Earth’s low orbit. Though likely invisible to the naked eye, the satellites will be part of a future herd of hundreds that, according to the Space Development Agency, or SDA, will bolster the United States’ defense capabilities.
The SDA, formed in 2019, is an organization under the United States Space Force, the newly formed military branch that operates and protects American assets in space. And like all good startups, the agency is positioned as a disruptor. It aims to change the way the military acquires and runs its space infrastructure. For instance, the forthcoming satellite network, called the National Defense Space Architecture, will collectively gather and beam information, track missiles, and help aim weapons, among other tasks.
The SDA’s vision both mimics and relies on shifts that started years ago in the commercial sector: groupings of cheap little satellites — often weighing hundreds of pounds, instead of thousands — that together accomplish what fewer big, expensive satellites used to.