$6.3M to Micro-RDC Toward the ‘6-Day Satellite’
Micro-electronics Research Development Corp. (Micro-RDC) in Colorado Springs, CO received a $6.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to design and develop plug-and-play and responsive space components, systems, and process to enable the ‘six-day’ satellite. Micro-RDC, whose specialty is the design, testing, and mitigation of radiation effects on transistors, circuits, and systems (a constant issue in space), will lead technical and program efforts with the help of subcontractors at the Air Force Research Laboratory. At this time, $50,000 has been obligated; work will be complete June 2010. The Headquarters Air Force Research Laboratory in Kirtland Air Force Base, NM issued the contract (FA9453-07-C-0179).
“The overarching objective of this experiment is to provide and launch an operationally relevant micro-satellite, with the ability to task and disseminate data through existing operational networks (SIPRNET), in less than 1 year and for less than $15M (to include launch costs). Additionally, this experiment seeks to explore concept-technology pairings that develop near term paths for the tactical use of space in four key areas… Micro-satellite design and processing… Responsive, on-demand space lift… Making space an organic part of the Joint Task Force… Developing space professionals and the processes needed for responsive space.”
A more detailed description can be found via the Naval Research Laboratory, but the broad idea is to help the United States to maintain space superiority into the foreseeable future without breaking its budgets, thanks to readily available, adaptable and expendable small satellites that could be put together quickly and launched to serve a wide variety of purposes. These mini-satellites and micro-satellites would augment the more strategic capabilities offered by traditional, multi-billion dollar large satellite programs.
Making this happen will require inexpensive rocket boosters per programs like FALCON, but that isn’t all.
As OFT’s Arthur Cebrowski has noted, the second critical factor will be satellite bus standardization that makes issues like module size and interfaces much less of an issue, allowing the lower-cost development of modules that approach plug-and-play status, and hence fast assembly and launch in reaction to particular contingencies. The ‘six day satellite’/ SMARTBus idea stems from this vision, and Cebrowski described standards for modular, scalable satellite buses as:
“Critical to achieving the agility and flexibility demanded by an Operational Responsive Space model… This must be a part of our future plans and will allow us to increase the utility margin of smaller satellites.”
As Lloyd Feldman, the former assistant director for science and technology within the OFT, put it:
“What we want to have is a way we can concentrate on not having to build a unique satellite and bus every time we [want] a certain capability… It would be like building Carnegie Hall every time you wanted to hear a symphony. In fact, we want to build one good Carnegie Hall and then concentrate on booking the bands, making sure they play to the right audience.”
Operationally Responsive space is currently a small program by space standards, at a mere $50 million. The concept does appear to have its political fans, however, and so there is potential to grow. If they are successful, Micro-RDC’s efforts may play a role in that future vision.
- Naval Research Laboratory – Tactical Microsatellite Experiment (TacSat-1). Part of the Operationally Responsive Space push, and explains the wider concepts.
- National Defense Magazine (July 2007) – Can the Air Force Build a Satellite in Six Days? Goes into more details regarding the tricky aspects of ‘plug and play’ ambitions, and the industry’s current state.
- Inside Defense (May 3/07) – Pentagon Delivers Joint Responsive Space Office Plan To Congress [PDF, via Office of Force Transformation Library]. Looks like funding is on its way up. Will it be enough to meet the declared mission?
- Space News (April 10/06) – OpEd: Putting the “Operational” in Operationally Responsive Space. Adds a number of suggestions, in addition to efforts like the SMARTBus et. al., if the government really wants to get better value and more responsiveness for its space dollars.
- Air Force Magazine (March 1/06) – “Responsive Space: Making Space Launch Faster, Easier, and Cheaper Sounds Simple. It’s not.” [PDF format]
- Space Review (Feb 27/06) – Military space systems: the road ahead (esp. pg. 2)