Spacelift Washington: DoD Space Guide Details Microsat Development Plan, Space Demos – and – DoD SERB Heads for Mid-cycle Review

By frank_sietzen
February 25, 2001
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washingon Archive

WASHINGTON, – A Congressionally-mandated report released last month gives the most detailed review yet assembled of the Defense Department’s assessment of the growing convergence of military and civil space technology with systems and assets of commercial industry. The 77-page guide [1.5 MB Acrobat], along with a detailed 64-page appendix [952K Acrobat] gave extensive details of the department’s priorities in microsatellite and advanced technology areas that have potential military uses. Some of the technology detailed in the guide are being developed by industry, flanked by research inside government-funded laboratories like AFRL, NRL, DARPA, and other NASA facilities, too. All but a few have extensive potential for commercial satellites, launchers, spacecraft, and upper stages. It should be must-reading for all in the space community.

This column will devote several editions to facets of the “DoD Space Technology Guide”, beginning with the guide’s detailing of its microsatellite (‘microsat’) development plan.

Focus of the Guide

In its National Defense Authorization Act of 2000, (Public Law 106-65 dated October 5, 1999) the U.S. House and Senate detailed the Defense Department to generate four space-related reports: a guide to space technology, a report on the vulnerability of U.S. space assets, an assessment of U.S. space launch failures, and a review of the existing needs of the U.S. launch infrastructure. The guide was to include a “microsat technology development plan to guide investment decisions in microsat technology and establish priorities for technology demonstration activities”.

The acceptance of microspace

Once considered to be radical solutions to space needs, microsats have come of age in recent years and the entire concept of reducing the size of certain types of satellites has found greater acceptance-even within NASA, where the idea once was considered heresy. Shrinking onboard systems for all satellites is now considered to be essential ways of reducing cost and mass to orbit. “Miniaturization is key to reducing spacecraft component size, weight, and costs”, the guide says. “SDIO and BMDO research resulted in size reductions in optical cameras and reduction wheels, and data processing systems”. The investments in research by the space defense organizations resulted in greater use of composite materials in spacecraft antenna panels, buses, and satellite bodies. But according to the guide, these savings were not order-of-magnitude reductions. There were small effects, “from one spacecraft generation to the next”.

Benefits of microspace

So what has the microspace ‘revolution’ created in the way of major benefits to space operations, programs, and system development? The guide lists:

  • Reduced component and spacecraft costs
  • Reduced cost to orbit
  • In some cases the ability to perform the same mission through use of smaller or more numerous platforms
  • Ability of new microsat classes to perform new or specialized missions

The effects of the increased use of smaller craft and subsystems has been mainly on existing satellite programs, the guide claims. But soon “microsats per se and their generated new operational concepts will be the focus of space technology experiments and flight demonstrations”.

Within the body of microspace research now being detailed, the guide set forth several future uses for the space vehicles:

  • Augment existing constellations
  • Special purpose missions, such as nuclear detection
  • Operate as multi-function platforms
  • Support space control concepts such as counter space operations
  • On-orbit maintenance and refueling technologies
  • Virtual apertures
  • Space-based sensing
  • Atmospheric monitoring
  • Planetary exploration, communications, and navigation in deep space and on other worlds

Technology to be pursued

Within the confines of mainly space technology with military (and sometimes dual-use technologies), DoD listed several areas where greater research efforts were needed. These included:

  • Advanced micropropulsion systems
  • Micro attitude sensing and control systems
  • Autonomous satellite control technologies
  • Lightweight power systems
  • New battery technology, such as ion and polymer
  • Ultra lightweight solar cells
  • Precision micro-robotic devices
  • Micro navigation systems
  • High data storage optical buses
  • Superconducting and modular electronics
  • Lightweight active and passive sensors
  • Low-cost manufacturing tools and technologies

To accelerate microspace technology research, space technology demonstrations are needed. But the guide reviews the spending on S&T during the Clinton years and finds it wanting. “The decline of S&T funding during the nineties has resulted in fewer technologies mature enough for demonstrations in space,” according to DoD. “This, combined with high satellite and launch cost has exacerbated the problem. ..the current situation is less than one demonstration flight per year.” While the report noted that recent increases to S&T flight demo budgets has occurred, the lag will effect planning for the near-term.
The problem is also impacted by increased reliance upon the Space Shuttle, which is the primary launcher for the DoD Space Test Program (STP) where much of these tech demos occur. A partial solution, the guide says, is development of new spacecraft adapters which can be fitted to the upper stage mounts and payload fairings of expendable launch vehicles. Such an adapter would increase launch options beyond the Shuttle, the guide said.

But what are the plans and priorities for space technology demonstrations? And which of the agencies and services are involved? Details in our next column.


We are approaching the mid-cycle meeting of the DoD Space Experiments Review Board (SERB), the annual process of ranking the priorities of space technology demonstration missions that are to be conducted by the Space Test Program. This year’s mid-cycle review will occur April 25-26 at ANSER’s offices in Shirlington, Virginia. Anyone interested should contact Chuck Finley at 703-416-3240.

Last year, 39 experiments were ranked by the SERB and sent to STP for processing. Each year, individual services conduct their own internal review of candidate space experiments, and forward their lists to the SERB board where in the fall a prioritized ranking is assembled. In 2000, the top 10 experiment candidates (and their sponsoring organizations) were: Indian Ocean Imager (ONR), Cibola Flight Experiment (AFTAC), TechSat2.1 (AFRL), Spatial Heterodyne Imager (NRL), Ionospheric Mapping & Geocoronal Experiment (NRL), High-Speed Optical Intersatellite Link (AFRL), Atmospheric Density Specification (AFRL), Remote Atmospheric Detection System (NRL), Ozone Mapper & Profiler (NRL), and Tactical Ionospheric Monitoring System (NRL). The rankings do not guarantee that a particular experiment is flown, and non-DoD experiments can be considered if a DoD organization can be persuaded to sponsor the flight.

More on the development of the 2001 list as the year moves along.

Related Links:

° Priority Ranking for 2000 DoD Space Experiments Review Board

° Department of Defense Space Technology Guide FY 2000-2001

° Appendix, Department of Defense Space Technology Guide FY 2000-2001

° Ballistic Missile Defense
Organization (BMDO)

SPACELIFT WASHINGTON © 2001 by Aerospace FYI Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction allowed with permission. The information contained herein are the authors own and are not affiliated with any other society, organization, or institution. Publication does not constitute endorsement of either editorial content or sponsoring web site.
Have information about space transportation? Email the editor at sietzen@erols.com