Monday, August 20, 2018

Small-sat Standardization Moving Forward as Larger Players Make Investments in the Industry

          By Brian Orlotti

The small satellite industry is one of the fastest growing fields of space exploration, and two recent developments in standardization and funding will accelerate the field’s progress.

First, the Geneva, Switzerland based International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published the first international technical specification for small spacecraft, specifying the minimum requirements that all small spacecraft must comply with, regardless of their mission.

This document, the "ISO/TS 20991:2018 Space systems -- Requirements for small spacecraft," details the requirements for every stage of a small spacecraft system’s life-cycle: design, launch, deployment, operation and disposal.

The ISO is a global network of thousands of experts (members of the national standards bodies of 161 nations) that works to develop international standards for various industries, ranging from food to computer networking to space exploration.

Typically, ISO standards are developed by committees of experts who actively work in their chosen field. For example, the ISO has greatly influenced the development of the global telecommmunications industry through its influential open systems interconnection (OSI) model as well as the now-ubiquitious 802.11 wireless networking standards.

Standardization will offer the smallsat industry the same benefits it has granted other industries; lowered barriers to entry for new players, greater safety, lower costs and ensured interoperability between different systems.

ISO/TS 20991 was developed by ISO technical committee ISO/TC 20, aircraft and space vehicles, subcommittee SC 14, space systems and operations. This committee is led by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the ISO’s member for the US.

The second development is large, established ‘old space’ firms making major investments in small satellite manufacturers.

For example, as outlined in the August 6th, 2018 Space News post, "Terran Orbital raises $36 million in Series B investment round," the Bethesda, MD based US aerospace behemoth Lockheed Martin Corporation, acting in partnership with New York NY based multinational investment house Goldman Sachs and Santa Monica CA based Beach Point Capital, has led a $38Mln USD ($50Mln CDN) Series B investment round into Irvine, CA based Terran Orbital.

Terran Orbital has worked with government, military and commercial customers. The company’s projects include:
  • The NASA RainCube cubesat mission, a technology demonstration mission to enable Ka-band precipitation radar technologies on a low-cost, quick-turnaround platform.
  • ImageSat’s RUNNER earth observation imaging satellites. 
Lockheed Martin initially invested $8Mln USD ($10.5Mln CDN) in Terran Orbital last year and reached an agreement with the company to essentially resell its cubesats through Lockheed Martin under the "LM50 satellite series," logo.

Terran Orbital will use the Series B funds to add more staff and build a new 40,000 square foot facility designed to produce up to 150 small satellites per year.

In another example, and as outlined in the August 16th, 2018 Geekwire post, "Boeing expands satellite portfolio with acquisition of Millennium Space Systems," Chicago Il based aerospace giant Boeing has announced that it was acquiring Los Angeles CA based Millennium Space Systems (MSS).

Founded in 2001, MSS builds two small satellite platforms, Altair and Aquila, as well as satellite components, along with operations management. The company has around 260 employees and a 70,000 square foot facility for designing, building and operating its satellites.

MSS’s publicly known customers include various US military organizations such as the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS Office), the US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The space industry’s shift away from large, expensive single satellites to large swarms of small ones continues at a steady pace. In turn, standardization and greater investment will help propel smallsats to even greater heights.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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