Plug and Play Satellites: Short Order Space Capability
The era of the huge military satellite programs that cost tens of billions of dollars appears to be over. At least as far as the US Congress is concerned. Last year, lawmakers shut down the $20 billion plus Transformational Communications Satellite (TSAT) System program after huge costs overruns and skepticism about the system’s unproven technology.
At the same time, the US Air Force is moving ahead with development of small satellites that can be developed quickly in response to tactical needs and launched within days. These small satellites would be constructed using preexisting modules to meet the communications and ISR needs of commanders in the field. They are called plug-and-play (PNP) satellites and are being developed by the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL).
AFRL recently awarded a contract worth up to $200 million for work on the PNP satellite architecture…
On Jan 28/10, Miltec Corp., a subsidiary of Ducommun Inc., announced that AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate awarded the company a 5-year indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity PNP satellite development contract with a ceiling of $200 million.
The 1st order under the contract is to conduct a study and demonstration phase to support the development of the advanced PNP satellite architecture. A subsequent task order is anticipated to include the development of a PNP satellite demonstration bus.
The AFRL’s Advanced PNP Spacecraft Technologies Program is carrying out research, development, and design to support PNP technology development, including satellite busses, components, payloads, and flight and ground software.
Modules being developed for the PNP satellites [pdf] include:
- microsystems (combination of microelectronics, advanced packaging, and microelectromechanical systems);
- high-performance computing in orbit; and
- configurable systems approaches (field programmable gate arrays, adaptive wiring, and software defined radio concepts).
The goal of the Advanced PNP Spacecraft Technologies Program is to develop the capability to assemble, checkout, and launch a satellite within days, or even hours of a battlefield commander’s requirement.