Wonderful Engineering

New SmartSat Technology Allows Lockheed Martin To Reprogram Satellites In Orbit

Lockheed Martin has launched a new class of CubeSat that has the ability to be reprogrammed in orbit just like your smartphone to take on new missions. The technology has been named as SmartSat. SmartSat technology is currently being incorporated into over 10 satellite programs as a start. The prototype will be launched this year on the first LM 50 nanosatellite buses.

Smartphones are ‘relatively’ still new, and yet we have become so used to them that many of us don’t realize what they actually are; small yet powerful computers capable of reconfiguration based on the application that you are running on them. Now compare this to a motor car that can only perform the tasks that it has been built for and nothing else. Whereas, a smartphone can be a gaming device, a communication device, a radiation detector, or even a chess player depending upon the software that you are running on it.

Thanks to the latest SmartSat technology, Lockheed is also aiming to achieve the same effect with its orbital satellites. Rather than having a hard-wired device at your disposal that is only capable of doing the tasks that it was made to perform, the SmartSat relies on a software-based architecture that allows for extreme makeovers using simple download at any given time during its useful life.

Moving to the hardware aspect of SmartSat; it has been based on a radiation-hardened and high-power computer that comes from the National Science Foundation’s Center for Space. The computer is known as High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC). SmartSat also uses a hypervisor – an individual computer that is capable of running multiple servers virtually in order to enhance memory, onboard processing, and network bandwidth. This enables the CubeSats with SmartSat technology to manage more data without overloading the ground station analysts.

The software for SmartSat gives prime importance to cybersecurity thus enabling the satellites to diagnose themselves, reset themselves, and even autonomously detect any cyber threats and tackle them. The technology is slated to be used in the Linus Project of Lockheed. The Linus Project involves two CubeSats that are comprised of twelve 10 x 10 x 10 cm subunits for testing the SmartSat system and 3D-printed components of spacecraft. The technology will also find its use in Pony Express where a number of six-subunit CubeSats shall be carrying out testing of latest network technologies in low-Earth orbit along with RF-enabled swarming formations and space-to-space networking later on.

Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space, said, ‘SmartSat is a major step forward in our journey to completely transform the way we design, build and deliver satellites. The LM 50 bus is the perfect platform for testing this new, groundbreaking technology. We’re self-funding these missions to demonstrate a number of new capabilities that can plug into any satellite in our fleet, from the LM 50 nanosat to our flagship LM 2100. And the same technology not only plugs into ground stations, improving space-ground integration, but it will also one day connect directly with planes, ships, and ground vehicles, connecting front-line users to the power of space like never before.’