Reduce, reuse and recycle with Satlets

by Staff Reporter | August 6th, 2012

Space Systems/Loral, has been selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to determine how small satellites can be carried to geostationary orbit (GEO) as hosted payloads on commercial satellites. SS/L was awarded a contract to analyse and define key aspects of DARPA’s Phoenix programme, which is focused on developing and demonstrating technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in GEO.

SS/L was awarded a contract to analyse and define key aspects of DARPA’s Phoenix programme, which is focused on developing and demonstrating technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in GEO

In order to repurpose these valuable components, such as antennas, the Phoenix programme plan is to attach small satellites, called ‘satlets,’ that will take control of the old components and give them new operational life. SS/L will study how to carry these satlets to orbit by giving them a ride on large commercial GEO satellites.

The vision is for satlets to be packaged in multiples in a payload orbital delivery system (PODS). After one of the PODS is dispensed, it is intended to be met by a robotic vehicle designed to retrieve the satlets and attach them to the repurposed components. The DARPA Phoenix programme plans to demonstrate this revolutionary capability in space in the 2015 to 2016 time-frame, pointing a way to more cost-effective space-based capabilities.

“Ridesharing on large commercial spacecraft is an ideal way to bring the Phoenix satlets to GEO at major savings, compared to dedicated launches,” said Gerrit van Ommering, SS/L’s project manager on the effort. “The results of our studies will provide the needed specifics on the most effective ways to accomplish that.”

Dispensing rideshare payloads is, the company claims, an innovative use of the hosted payload capability offered by today’s very large and powerful GEO satellites, such as SS/L’s 1300 platform. The numerous commercial satellites launched each year can reportedly┬áprovide frequent and cost-effective access to space for smaller satellites such as the Phoenix satlets.

“SS/L is very supportive of developing innovative and affordable solutions for the U.S. Government’s mission needs,” said Al Tadros, vice president of U.S. Government Solutions at Space Systems/Loral. “With six to seven GEO launches of our satellites each year, we provide a unique perspective to study increasing the tempo of mass to orbit via hosted payloads across multiple platforms, thereby helping to enable missions such as Phoenix.”

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