Lockheed Martin develops smart satellite that can be reprogrammed in orbit
Lockheed Martin is rolling out a new class of CubeSat that can be reprogrammed in orbit like a smartphone to take on new missions. The new SmartSat technology is being integrated into over 10 satellite programs to start with and prototypes will be launched this year on the first LM 50 nanosatellite buses.
Even though smartphones are still relatively new, we've become so used to them that it's easy to forget what makes them such powerful tools. Smartphones are full-blown hand computers that can be reconfigured into a surprisingly large range of different devices by simply downloading an app. Compared to something like a motor car that can only do a few things that it's been built to do, a smartphone at one moment can be a communication device, then a second later it can be a calculator, a navigation device, a radiation detector, or a chess player.
With its new SmartSat technology, Lockheed is hoping to achieve something very similar with orbital satellites. Instead of having a hard-wired device that can only do what it was made to do when it was launched, the SmartSat uses a software-based architecture that can be radically altered by a simple download at any point in its service life.
On the hardware side, SmartSat is based on a high-power, radiation-hardened computer produced by the National Science Foundation's Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC). It also uses a hypervisor – a single computer that runs multiple servers virtually as a way to maximize memory, on-board processing, and network bandwidth. This allows that CubeSats to handle more data without putting too large a burden on ground station analysts.
Meanwhile, the software for SmartSat places cybersecurity at a high priority that allows satellites to diagnose themselves, reset themselves, and autonomously detect cyber threats and counter them.
The technology will be used in Lockheed's Linus project, which involves two CubeSats made up of twelve 10 x 10 x 10 cm (4 x 4 x 4 in) subunits designed to test both the SmarSat system and 3D-printed spacecraft components. It will also be used in Pony Express, which is a number of six-subunit CubeSats that will test state-of-the-art networking technologies in low-Earth orbit, along with and RF-enabled swarming formations and space-to-space networking in later missions.
"SmartSat is a major step forward in our journey to completely transform the way we design, build and deliver satellites," says Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space. "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, it will one day connect directly with planes, ships and ground vehicles, connecting front-line users to the power of space like never before."
Source: Lockheed Martin