Lockheed Martin demonstrates system for servicing CubeSat swarms

In an autonomous orbital ballet, Lockheed Martin’s In-space Upgrade Satellite System (LM LINUSS) completed a demonstration of how highly automated CubeSats can upgrade and service increasingly common constellations of small satellites.

One constant of commercial space operations is that launching satellites is always expensive and that it is often cost effective to simply abandon an otherwise perfectly good orbital asset because of a malfunction.

That attitude has been changed in recent years with companies like Northrop Grumman opting to develop repair satellites that can dock with ageing and ailing satellites, then act as service modules to help them keep station and continue function.

That’s fine for large geosynchronous satellites that are used to maintain global communication networks, but what about constellations of small satellites that aren’t much bigger than a loaf of bread? These swarms of CubeSats can also fail or become obsolete, so how to keep them working and up to date?

Lockheed’s LM LINUSS is one step in solving this problem. Consisting of toaster-sized LM 50 2U CubeSats, the system is designed to carry out highly-automated rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) needed to maneuver in multi-satellite constellations in a prelude to one day being able to service them.

In the recent demonstration, one satellite acted as the passive target while another took the role of service vehicle. Using online navigation algorithms and artificial intelligence, the service vehicle successfully approached and rendezvoused with the target.

In addition, the satellites tested Lockheed Martin’s Horizon 2.0 command and control (C2) software and SmartSat software; maintained connection for telemetry, tracking, and control; and demonstrated a low-toxicity propulsion system, machine vision, and validated the use of 3D-printed components.

“The LM LINUSS pathfinder is an excellent example of how Lockheed Martin is investing in innovation in the real world, “said Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin, vice president and general manager, Military Space. “Agile development, cloud-based operations, and smallsat platforms came together at speed and in orbit, where the real test of technology occurs. Through the accomplishments of LM LINUSS, Lockheed Martin is pioneering how future small and medium class missions will be upgraded on-orbit, and continuing to develop critical, breakthrough technologies that keep our customers ahead of ready.”

Source: Lockheed Martin

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