Wired reports on a cluster of mini-satellites that will soon be launched into orbit that will assist U.S. special forces personnel during manhunts. “SOCOM is putting eight miniature communications satellites, each about the size of a water jug, on top of the Minotaur rocket that’s getting ready to launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. They’ll sit more than 300 miles above the earth and provide a new way for the beacons to call back to their masters.” When special forces are able to tag their target, the target can be tracked and located through the use of satellites and cell towers, but coverage is poor in many areas of the world. The satellites going up in September will help to fill in some gaps. “This array of configurable ‘cubesats’ is designed to stay aloft for three years or more. Yes, it will serve as further research project. But ‘operators are going to use it,’ Richardson promised an industry conference in Tampa last week.”
The military has spent hundreds of millions of dollars researching, developing, and purchasing a slew of “Tagging tracking and locating” (TTL) gear — gizmos designed to keep covertly tabs from far away. Most of these technologies are highly classified. But there’s enough information in the open literature to get a sense of what the government is pursuing: laser-based reflectors, super-strength RFID tags, and homing beacons so tiny, they can be woven into fabric or into paper.
Some of the gadgets are already commercially available; if you’re carrying around a phone or some other mobile gadget, you can be tracked – either through the GPS chip embedded in the gizmo, or by triangulating the cell signal. Sandia National Laboratories have “Radar Responsive” tags, which are like a long-range version of the ubiquitous stick-on RFID tags used to mark items in shops. The Radar Responsive tag stays asleep until it is woken up by a radar pulse. The tags in Wal-mart have a range of a couple of meters, Sandia’s tags can light up and locate themselves from twelve miles away