This post is also available in: heעברית (Hebrew)

Illustration Photo, OPTSAT 3000, IAI
Illustration Photo, OPTSAT 3000, IAI

Dedicated satellites for homeland security missions? Probably that is going to happen as small, low cost satellites come into the market.

According to Aviation Week, Boeing is developing a family of three small satellites – from 4 to 1,000 kg in size – to whet the growing appetite of commercial and government customers interested in pursuing lower-cost space platforms.

This small satellite market is one that is “coming of age,” potentially worth billions over the next 10 years, says Alex Lopez, vice president of advanced network and space systems at Boeing. The company has yet to get a committed customer, but has been briefing the government and commercial operators.

Phoenix family chart Boeing
Phoenix family chart Boeing

Boeing unveiled the concept, developed by its Phantom Works advanced development arm, on April 8 on the eve of the 29th National Space Symposium here. Called Phantom Phoenix, the platform options will share a common architecture and flight software, potentially cutting down on unique research and development costs for customers. In the past, each Air Force satellite program required dedicated software, a large development cost for uniquely designed or modified buses.

Boeing officials are also boasting that the designs will simplify integration work for missions including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for government customers to civil planetary science.

The three designs are as follows: Phantom Phoenix (500-1,000 kg designed for single and dual launch); Phantom Phoenix EELV Secondary Payload Adaptor (180-kg class spacecraft designed to mate with the ESPA ring capable of carrying up to six satellites on an Atlas V or Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle); and Phantom Phoenix Nano (a 4-10 kg class spacecraft optimized for space and weather missions.

Though prototype work is under way for each of these satellite classes, much of the focus is in reducing risk in common software and avionics. “It is less about the structure and more about being able to plug and play for the mission,” says Bruce Chesley, director of advanced space and intelligence systems. “The structure is not the difficult part of the development. The software is the crux of the investment we are making now,” he says. Boeing is paying for this work out of its internal research and development accounts.

Customers can expect delivery within two years of an order, Lopez says.

Bcp&IT 180x250These options could interest the U.S. Air Force, which is exploring opportunities to disaggregate missions in the future so as not to have to develop massive, $1 billion satellites such as the Space-Based Infrared System or Advanced Extremely High Frequency constellation. Though this may not be a cheaper approach than building large satellites, it could offer more flexibility and resiliency than today’s architecture, says Gen. William.