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Small Satellite Conference 2015: Big Innovation in Small Packages

When it comes to machines, there was time when the overall size of a system was directly proportional to its capability. In fact, “bigger and better” is a marketing tagline frequently seen even today across a multitude of industries. But in space, “smaller” is taking over and proving that big things do come in small packages. This week Surrey Satellite Technology US is at the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah, in the midst of a thriving smallsat community and sharing details of two of its smallest commercially available satellite platforms—both of which aim to take advantage of a wealth of innovation and capability in the 25- to 100-kilogram satellite market.
Feathercraft is Surrey’s latest platform meant to address satellite missions up to 100 kilograms. This design takes advantage of relatively new capabilities, one of which results in considerable mass savings. By circumventing the traditional launch environment, where vibration and shock dictate heavy material in the structure for survival, Feathercraft can allocate more of the total launch mass to the payload by minimizing the mass of structure. It will accomplish this by launching to the International Space Station from inside a capsule or existing supply vessel where much of this launch energy can be absorbed. From here, the satellite can be “unpackaged” by astronauts and launched from a Kaber launcher (NanoRacks) into the same ISS orbit that has allowed for a wide range of mission possibilities. This, in combination with the utilization of smaller and lighter subsystem technologies (many of which are on display here at the conference) allow Feathercraft to provide a great deal of capability to payloads from a much smaller package. Other key highlights for this platform include the implementation of an electrical propulsion system for efficient orbit raising capability (Aerojet Rocketdyne) and a creative new approach to changing orbit inclination (EDDE). Feathercraft is designed for maximum capability and minimum launch mass in the 450- to 550-kilometer altitude range—the same range and inclination that has served the ISS science community so well over the last 15 years.

Surrey’s next-generation microsatellite is the latest Surrey platform meant to address a growing interest in the 25- to 75-kilogram satellite market. Capable of supporting up to a 60-kilogram payload, the platform is designed for modularity and easy adaptability to a host of specific mission requirements. While typical platforms grow as mission performance requirements dictate, they also carry along the inefficiencies tied to decisions made late in the development cycle. This may be a late-breaking delta-v requirement, or a higher payload power consumption, or a different orbit that results in lower power generation. These considerations are not uncommon and can have schedule-shattering consequences. This platform addresses these by creating modular subsystems that are easily integrated at the satellite level, scalable in some cases to known quantities with minimum impacts to schedule—even in the midst of last minute requirements. The next-generation microsatellite aims to achieve a payload to system mass ratio of 80:20—taking advantage of a single-board avionics architecture, and highly efficient solar cell technologies.

Every year we look forward to returning to this growing conference. We embrace many of the technologies on display here, as they are critical pieces to our own mission successes and play a large role in our “changing the economics of space.” And as we wrap up a busy and productive week here in Logan, we welcome collaboration with both large, well-known and small, relatively new companies to continue to push the envelope of what “big” things can be achieved from a “small” package.


13 August 20150 Comments1 Comment

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