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TacSat-3 (transparent).png
Artist's rendering of TacSat-3
Mission typeTechnology
COSPAR ID2009-028A
SATCAT no.35001
Mission duration2.5 years
Spacecraft properties
Launch mass400 kilograms (880 lb)
Start of mission
Launch date19 May 2009, 23:55 (2009-05-19UTC23:55Z) UTC
RocketMinotaur I
Launch siteMARS LP-0B
End of mission
Decay date30 April 2012
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee432 kilometers (268 mi)[1]
Apogee467 kilometers (290 mi)[1]
Inclination40.4 degrees[1]
Period93.57 minutes[1]
Epoch22 May 2009[1]
TacSat-3 final logo (090416-F-5147E-001).png  

TacSat-3 was the third in a series of U.S. military reconnaissance satellites. It was assembled in an Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate facility at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.[2] The TacSat satellites are all designed to demonstrate the ability to provide real-time data collected from space to combatant commanders in the field. TacSat-3 includes three distinct payloads: the Advanced Responsive Tactically Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer (ARTEMIS) hyperspectral imager, the Ocean Data Telemetry Microsatellite Link and the Space Avionics Experiment.[3]


TacSat-3 bus during integration

TacSat-3 uses a standard satellite bus developed and provided by ATK. The payload consists of a two mirror Ritchey–Chrétien telescope plus correction optics, with a focus device incorporated in the secondary mirror unit, and with a slit Offner spectrometer. The spectrometer uses the ARTEMIS hyperspectral imaging sensor (HSI), which is a single HgCdTe Focal Plane Array covering the entire V/NIR/SWIR spectrum from 400 nm to 2500 nm at a uniform resolution of 5 nm. ARTEMIS measures first the spectral information at each point on the ground in 400 spectral channels. HSI data cubes obtained by ARTEMIS are then handled by a reprogrammable digital signal processor with 16 GB data storage capability to generate on-board products and for in-theater downlink.[4][5] TacSat-3's main focus is land-based HSI.[6] According to Peter Wegner from the Operationally Responsive Space Office, TacSat-3 cost US$90 million [7]


Launch of TacSat-3

In January 2009 the Air Force announced that a malfunctioning component has postponed the launch date on its Minotaur rocket.[8] However, in March 2009 it was announced that the component issues had been resolved and a launch date was set for May 5, 2009.[9] The May 5 launch attempt was scrubbed and a new launch date was set for May 19, with a backup date of May 20. The launch occurred successfully at 23:55 UTC on 19 May, 20 minutes into a launch window running from 23:35 to 03:30 (7:35 PM to 11:30 PM local time) each night.[10]

The first attempt to launch TacSat-3 was made on 6 May, during a window running from 00:00-03:00 UTC (20:00-23:00 local time on 5 May). However, due to thunderstorms and very low ceilings which prevented the surveillance plane from taking off, this launch attempt was scrubbed and the next attempt was scheduled for May 8 during the same window. The May 8th attempt was also scrubbed due to thunderstorms and heavy rain, which once again, prevented the surveillance plane from being able to take off. Another attempt was scheduled for the next day on May 9, again with the same window. Although the weather cooperated better for the May 9th attempt, a launch support equipment problem caused a delay of approximately three hours past the scheduled launch time. This problem was resolved and the countdown resumed. However, with 2 minutes and 16 seconds left on the countdown clock, an unexpected hold was called.[11] Several minutes later, this launch attempt was also scrubbed due to low electrical voltage on the AGC of the Flight Termination System. A new launch date was set for May 19 with May 20 as a backup date.

The spacecraft was successfully launched at 23:55 UTC on May 19, 2009 after a small delay to remove off shore boaters from the exclusion area.


ARTEMIS image of the National Mall

TacSat-3 achieved a HSI ground resolution of 4 meters, which enabled it to detect and identify tactical targets.[12] After a successful completion of a one-year experimental phase, and the acquisition of more than 2100 images, TacSat-3 was handed over to the Air Force in June 2010 as a full-time operational asset. It is the first hyperspectral satellite with the ability to provide reconnaissance within 10 minutes after passing overhead. Field commanders using tactical radio equipment, such as the AN/PRC-117F Multiband Manpack Radio, can directly communicate with the satellite in the ultra high frequency band.[13][14][15] TacSat-3/ARTEMIS observations of the National Mall and the Kilauea Volcano to support technical validation of the sensor have been released in June 2010. The released images comprise three of the more than 400 spectral bands.[16]

TacSat-3 completed operations on 15 February 2012. On 30 April 2012, following the decay of its orbit, TacSat-3 reentered the Earth's atmosphere and burned up.[17][18]



  1. ^ a b c d e McDowell, Jonathan. "Satellite Catalog". Jonathan's Space Page. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  2. ^ "On-demand intel satellite sensor delivered". United Press International. June 12, 2007. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011.
  3. ^ Kleiman, Michael P. (March 30, 2006). "Responsive, flexible, and affordable satellite enhances support to warfighter". AF.mil. Air Force Research Laboratory. Archived from the original on July 25, 2006.
  4. ^ Kleiman, Michael P. (April 17, 2009). "TacSat-3 to demonstrate rapid delivery of imagery". AF.mil. 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs. Archived from the original on April 20, 2009.
  5. ^ Starr, William J., Jr. (March 12, 2010). Analysis of Slewing and Attitude Determination Requirements for CTEx (Thesis). Air Force Institute of Technology. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  6. ^ Davis, Thomas M.; Straight, Stanley D. (2006). Development of the Tactical Satellite 3 for Responsive Space Missions (PDF). 4th Responsive Space Conference, Los Angeles, April 24–27, 2006. ResponsiveSpace.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 17, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  7. ^ Brinton, Turner (August 30, 2010). "Rapidly Delivered Systems". SpaceNews. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  8. ^ Kleiman, Michael P. (January 13, 2009). "Malfunctioning Component Delays Satellite Launch". AF.mil. 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs. Archived from the original on March 14, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  9. ^ Kleiman, Michael P. (March 25, 2009). "Launch date established for Tactical Satellite-3". AF.mil. 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs. Archived from the original on June 25, 2013. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  10. ^ "TacSat-3 Information". NASA.gov. May 20, 2009. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  11. ^ "NASA Wallops". Twitter.com. 2009-05-08. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
  12. ^ Payton, Gary (2010). Future of Air Force Space. AIAA New Horizons Forum, January 6, 2010. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Archived from the original on March 5, 2010.
  13. ^ Page, Lewis (June 11, 2010). "New prototype US spy satellite rushed into active use". The Register. Retrieved June 13, 2010.
  14. ^ Brewin, Bob (January 22, 2008). "Air Force working on cheaper plug-and-play satellites". Government Executive. Retrieved June 13, 2010.
  15. ^ Kleiman, Michael P. (June 10, 2010). "Tactical Satellite-3 completes groundbreaking experimental mission". AF.mil. 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs. Archived from the original on February 18, 2013. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  16. ^ Kleiman, Michael P. (June 18, 2010). "Two image collects released by Tactical Satellite-3 demonstration program". AF.mil. 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  17. ^ "Space Command TacSat 3 burns up in atmosphere". AF.mil. Air Force Space Command Public Affairs. May 2, 2012. Archived from the original on March 4, 2013. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  18. ^ "Tacsat 3". Aero.org. April 30, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2013.

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