Launch Stories provides warfighters, sponsors, partners, and taxpayers with an inside look at the technologies and research developed by small businesses working with the Air Force.
Sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), this new forum highlights the advanced tools and innovations that drive US competitiveness and make service members safer, better informed, and more efficient than ever. These are their stories.
(If you are interested in partnering with the Air Force to develop a new technology or explore new markets, you can find more information here.)
Congress established the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program in 1982 to strengthen the role of smaller businesses in federally-funded research and development. This program stimulates technological innovation, uses small businesses to meet Federal R&D needs, and increases private sector competition, productivity, and economic growth.
The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, a sister program to SBIR, was established by Congress in 1992 to encourage small business partnerships with Universities, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, and qualified non-profit research institutions.
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Imagine a field commander requesting space assets for a mission and, only days later, being able to access that information in real time. Design Net Engineering's Modular Open Network Architecture (MONA) can not only dramatically reduce development schedules but can also substantially reduce the cost of using space-based information acquisition. This "game changing" technology makes space assets as readily accessible as the data garnered from today's unmanned aircraft.
Fighting on today’s battlefield requires real-time information. A spacecraft (SC) with appropriate sensors can provide such data. Traditional spacecraft development requires over a year of work and specially customized design solutions. The process simply takes too long. The answer is an adaptable spacecraft configuration with Space Plug and Play Avionics (SPA). This would include a Modular Open Network Architecture (MONA) that allows the developer to implement plug and play (PnP) spacecraft sensors similar to a USB interface. This system can reduce development time to a month or less. The PnP MONA provides this capability by discovering component attributes and configuring it into the spacecraft, significantly reducing component integration time and cost.
Modular Space vehicle
Small satellites can play a critical role on today’s battlefield by providing real-time connectivity to the Warfighter. Today, spacecraft-generated data comes from expensive assets that Warfighters do not control, often resulting in delayed and/or incomplete service. Plug and play technology enables rapid spacecraft development and deployment (weeks not years) and orders of magnitude reduction in costs, making spacecraft increasingly attractive from an operations and cost point of view. The MONA PnP technology establishes standard hardware & software interfaces, allowing spacecraft components to share resources without custom code or hardware. This architecture enables a commander to select spacecraft components based on battlefield needs. The PnP architecture and associated tools provide a flexible development environment where a satellite can be assembled within weeks after a request is made. Once the spacecraft is on orbit, the Warfighter can control it just like any land or air asset. A Warfighter commanding their own space asset over the battlefield is a major paradigm shift in military operations.
Design Net Engineering (DNE), under the ORS Modular Space Vehicle Tier 2 Enabler SC bus development program, developed a MONA spacecraft architecture made of plug and play subsystem modules. The MONA consists of small processors (ASIMs) providing standardized interfaces to spacecraft components such as reaction wheels and payloads. DNE is also developing a set of easy-to-use development tools that will generate the required Space Plug and Play Avionics interface software for components. DNE will develop the next generation of SPA design tools to enable the end-item component developer to embed the ASIM functionality directly into their devices, increasing efficiency and lowering cost.
"Studies show 85% of spacecraft costs are labor. Plug and play standardizes interfaces to enable automation of satellite development and increase software reuse, producing dramatic cost savings." — Maurice Martin
The spacecraft developer receives a set of mission requirements (e.g. target type, location and picture resolution) from a battlefield commander which are converted into a design specification. The developer then selects a set of components such as reaction wheels, star trackers, etc., and various sensor payloads. As the developer incorporates each component, the MONA system recognizes it and adds it to a data-centric configuration management system. It also appraises all other subsystems of the new component. The process is repeated until all components have been added. Through its open network architecture, the data handling subsystem makes all networked components available to the users and subsystems on the network. For heritage components that are not yet compatible with the system, small processors called ASIMs are programmed to act as an interface. DNE has also developed a simple easy to use a development tool suite for component and payload vendors to make their designs compatible, eliminating the need for separate ASIMs. This tool provides the user with the firmware to embed the ASIM functionality directly into their component. After the configuration is integrated, the satellite is ready for a system test and checkout. Through the use of standard software and hardware; system integration, test time, and associated costs are significantly reduced and the spacecraft is ready for launch and ready to support the Warfighter in a matter of weeks instead of years.
A standard plug and play spacecraft architecture can dramatically reduce spacecraft costs and development schedules. At this price point, field commanders can own and operate their own spacecraft. This is a “Game Changer” for the battlefield.
Today’s major US space systems are monolithic, making them vulnerable to an adversary attack with major potential consequences to the US and its allies. Disaggregation of these space systems into clusters or constellations of small satellites provides a more robust and less vulnerable system. Even with a loss of functionality, a multi-satellite system remains cohesive from a mission perspective. DNE's MONA makes this possibility into reality.
The distributed plug and play architecture provides an avenue to manufacture distributed constellations of satellites at lower costs and frequency with frequent launches using small launch vehicles to replace a lost space asset.
SPA promises to finally enable a space response on the timeline of need. It’s founded on an approach with proven affordable change tolerance, ideally suited to the tactical environment. — Charles Finley, ORS Spacecraft Lead at Department of the Air Force
Design Net Engineering is a leader in the development and manufacture of Space Plug and Play Avionics technologies for spacecraft systems. Our products include command and data handling subsystems comprising ASIMs, routers, and processors with all associated software as well as power systems.
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