Category Archives: Space

Gravitational waves

Airbus has been awarded a contract from the European Space Agency (ESA) to further develop the implementation of LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), one of the most ambitious science missions ESA has planned to date. With Phase B1 now underway, the detailed mission design and final technology development activities for the gravitational wave observatory are due to be completed by 2024, with launch planned for the late 2030s.

Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA)
Airbus to further develop LISA gravitational wave observatory mission

Gravitational waves were first postulated by Albert Einstein. They are distortions in space-time, created when for example supermassive black holes – billions of times heavier than our sun – merge. These events are so powerful that the resulting gravitational waves can be measured by sensitive instruments from billions of light years away.

To measure these waves, LISA consists of three spacecraft that form an equilateral triangle deep in space, 2.5 million kilometres/1,553,428 miles apart from each other. Gravitational waves stretch and compress space-time, causing the tiniest changes in distance between the LISA probes (less than the diameter of an atom). Any movements of test masses that free-fall inside the three spacecraft when a gravitational wave passes can be detected by the spacecrafts’ sensitive instruments. LISA will do this by using lasers that continuously transmit back and forth between the satellites using interferometry, measuring the distance between each of the test masses.

Some of the key technologies required for LISA were successfully tested in space with the LISA Pathfinder (LPF) mission developed and built by Airbus as prime. The mission results showed that LPF operated even more precisely than required for LISA. LPF was launched on 3rd December 2015 and ended in July 2017.

Gravitational waves are a new research method that uses gravity instead of light to measure dynamic processes in the universe. The study of gravitational waves offers enormous potential for discovering parts of the universe that are invisible in other ways. LISA will significantly expand our knowledge of the beginning, evolution, and structure of our universe. Gravitational waves have been detected by ground-based observatories in recent years – by experiments such as Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the European Virgo observatory – but these facilities are limited in size and sensitivity, meaning that they are only able to detect high-frequency gravitational waves from particular sources (such as merging stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars).

Launch of three-spacecraft constellation planned for late 2030s

Space Solar Power

In honor of Earth Day, the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is highlighting its efforts toward harnessing the Sun’s energy, converting it to Radio Frequency, or RF, and beaming it to the Earth providing a green power source for the U.S. and allied forces.

Day focus – Beaming solar power from satellite array

Key technologies need to be developed to make such a challenging process a reality.

In response to this challenge, AFRL formed the Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research, or SSPIDR, project to develop the critical technologies needed for such a system. These technologies include further improving solar cell efficiencies; solar to RF conversion and beam forming; reducing large temperature fluctuations on spacecraft components; and deployable structure concept designs.

«A major objective of SSPIDR is to break the one-meter-squared aperture threshold for solar power capture and conversion, and beam that energy to the ground», said James Winter, AFRL principal engineer and SSPIDR project manager. «AFRL will do this with Arachne, SSPIDR’s keystone flight experiment that is anticipated to launch in early 2025».

Other demonstrations of the target technologies include the Space Power INcremental DepLoyables Experiment, or SPINDLE, – a deployable structures experiment still undergoing trade studies, and the Space Power InfRared Regulation and Analysis of Lifetime, or SPIRRAL, experiment – a thermal experiment exploring the concept of using variable emissivity materials to reduce the large temperature swings experienced by spacecraft components on orbit. SPIRRAL is anticipated to launch in 2023 for a test campaign onboard the International Space Station.

«The technologies demonstrated by Arachne, SPINDLE and SPIRRAL will pave the way for an integrated large scale, space-based solar power system capable of collecting solar energy, converting it to RF and beaming it to a receiving station on the ground for conversion to clean, usable power», Winter said.

Colonel Eric Felt, the director of the AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate, considers SSPIDR one of his most important programs.

«An operational system like SSPIDR would provide power ‘on demand’ anywhere on the globe regardless of weather or latitude, day or night and without vulnerable logistics lines», Felt said.

The value of space solar power has been internationally recognized as a foundational capability in need of development.

«This technology will enable expanded space capabilities and give us military advantage, as well as provide economic growth and commerce with more sustainable energy sources». Felt said. «We are excited about the possibilities that the conversion of space solar power energy brings to our national defense and the humanitarian and green energy benefits it will offer to the world».

Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research Project (SSPIDR)

Glide Breaker

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking innovative proposals to conduct wind tunnel and flight testing of jet interaction effects for Phase 2 of the Glide Breaker program. The overall goal of Glide Breaker is to advance the United States’ ability to counter emerging hypersonic threats. Phase 1 of the program focused on developing and demonstrating a Divert and Attitude Control System (DACS) that enables a kill vehicle to intercept hypersonic weapon threats during their glide phase.

Glide Breaker
Glide Breaker Program Enters New Phase

Phase 2 will focus on quantifying aerodynamic jet interaction effects that result from DACS plumes and hypersonic air flows around an interceptor kill vehicle. The Glide Breaker Phase 2 Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) can be found at this link.

«Glide Breaker Phase 1 developed the propulsion technology necessary to achieve hit-to-kill against highly-maneuverable hypersonic threats. Phase 2 of the Glide Breaker program will develop the technical understanding of jet interactions necessary to enable design of propulsion control systems for a future operational glide-phase interceptor kill vehicle. Phases 1 and 2 together fill the technology gaps necessary for the U.S. to develop a robust defense against hypersonic threats», said Major Nathan Greiner, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

Mission Augmentation Port

Lockheed Martin has released an open-source, non-proprietary interface standard to support on-orbit docking within the industry.

Mission Augmentation Port (MAP)
A conceptual design demonstrates how a docking port may be incorporated onto a satellite using the Mission Augmentation Port (MAP) interface standard (Image: Lockheed Martin)

With unity of effort in mind, Lockheed Martin has published this Mission Augmentation Port (MAP) interface standard online to support industry approaches to on-orbit servicing and mission augmentation.

The MAP standard provides a mechanical interface design for docking spacecraft to one another. Equipping satellites with docking adapters offer a novel way to add new mission capabilities to a platform after launch. Lockheed Martin’s own Augmentation System Port Interface (ASPIN) is designed to be compliant with the MAP standard. The ASPIN adapter provides electrical and data interface between a host spacecraft and a Satellite Augmentation Vehicle (SAV). With this technology, we’re able to upgrade operational spacecraft at the speed of technology and provide built-in servicing infrastructure for spacecraft on orbit.

The data released by Lockheed Martin can be used by designers to develop their own MAP-compliant docking adapters that will – barring some required discussion between servicers and hosts to coordinate missions – permit interoperability of docking satellites. Specifically, the documents released contain the information required for a compliant physical mate of docking port halves, such as the dimensions of plates and petals. While determined to be application specific, suggestions for electrical interfaces and docking profiles are included.

«Just like USB was designed to standardize computer connections, these documents are designed to standardize how spacecraft connect to each other on orbit», said Paul Pelley, Senior Director of Advanced Programs at Lockheed Martin Space. «We believe it’s in the best interest of the nation for the industry to have common interface standards to provide mission agility and enterprise interoperability».


Vision for On-Orbit Upgrades

Much in the way we can now update missions on orbit using SmartSat to push software updates or load new apps, Lockheed Martin recognizes the need to reconfigure hardware capabilities to meet evolving mission needs. That’s where standards for docking come in: standardized docking interfaces allow satellite operators to unlock a new type of mission upgrades.

Those upgrades are constrained only by the capabilities of the host satellite and the docking port interface, and could include processors, mass storage, or sensors that add longevity and value to missions. New mission capabilities can also be rapidly prototyped and tested on host spacecraft at a lower cost than traditional methods. Likewise, some satellite components can be replaced or upgraded after launch with new hardware.

Unlike previous space missions where cutting-edge technology begins to lose relevance immediately after launch, future missions will be able to be upgraded via on-orbit hardware and software upgrades. What Lockheed Martin is envisioning goes beyond “filling up the tank” to extend mission life. The company believes its work will add real mission capability in a sustainable, cost-effective way.

«Ultimately, our goal is to drive the development of a new ecosystem where a platform’s function can change at the pace of technology», said Pelley. «This ecosystem will be made up of SAV providers, payload manufacturers, and others who will benefit from the on-orbit augmentation infrastructure».

Tactical SATCOM

The U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC) and Boeing recently completed a critical design review for the Protected Tactical SATCOM Prototype (PTS-P), validating Boeing’s technical maturity on the rapid-prototyping program.

A U.S. military Corps transmissions system operator establishes communication using a multiband-networking-manpack radio. Boeing’s Protected Tactical SATCOM Prototype (PTS-P) will provide users in-theater anti-jam capability to ensure protected connectivity in contested environments (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Mackenzie Binion)

«We’re making great progress on this pacesetter program», said Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Rose, SSC’s Tactical SATCOM Division deputy chief. «We’ve asked all industry partners to move fast – to build, iterate, demonstrate, and improve performance, so we can deploy much faster than we typically would. This design review demonstrates we’re on track to deliver new communication capabilities to the warfighter».

Boeing’s PTS-P features an on-board processor of the U.S. military’s jam-resistant Protected Tactical Waveform (PTW), providing users in-theater anti-jam capability with network routing that exceeds objective requirements.

Scheduled for on-orbit demonstration after a 2024 launch, the prototype payload showcases PTS-P’s improved stand-off distance performance, reduced latency, and other mission-enabling capabilities that enable the warfighter in a modern battlefield. Host vehicle integration and testing will begin next year.

Boeing is leveraging its expertise in model-based systems engineering and digital engineering to design an agile, scalable and flexible solution to meet the warfighter’s ever-emerging needs. Millennium Space Systems strengthens the team with rapid prototyping and demonstrations in a fully-integrated and streamlined execution approach.

«The Space Force’s incremental demonstration approach is allowing us to bring capabilities rapidly to the warfighter while mitigating risk for future technology developments», said Troy Dawson, Government Satellite Systems vice president at Boeing. «We’re investing across our satellite portfolio to deliver the most advanced solutions to our customers. Our scalable software-defined payload will be able to accommodate and grow to meet the needs of any mission, and it can be hosted on commercial or government platforms».

To date, the Boeing team has completed several capability demonstrations and design reviews, including validating interoperability with government-furnished Protected Anti-Jam Tactical SATCOM (PATS) hardware and software components.

Missile Warning System

Lockheed Martin has selected Raytheon Technologies Corporation to provide a second mission payload for the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Block 0 missile warning satellite system – also known as NGG. Both Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman Corporation are each already on contract to provide one mission payload for the three-satellite procurement.

Lockheed Martin’s Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (NGG) Block 0 early missile warning satellite (Photo credit: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin is currently under contract with the United States Space Force (U.S.S.F.) Space Systems Command (SSC) to build three survivable NGG satellites with enhanced missile warning and resiliency capabilities to stay ahead of the emerging threats. As part of risk-reduction efforts to meet the U.S.S.F.’s imperative to launch the first satellite by 2025, Lockheed Martin selected Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman/Ball Aerospace to develop mission payload designs. The payload designs from both competitors have completed the critical design phase and are on track to fly on the first two NGG satellites. It has yet to be determined which payload will be aboard the first NGG satellite launched in 2025.

«For this ‘Go-Fast’ program, both teams had to meet stringent schedule and performance requirements – which they’ve done. I want to congratulate and thank both teams for their tireless work and we look forward to the first flights of both the mission payloads», said Joseph Rickers, Lockheed Martin’s NGG program vice president. «These advanced OPIR payloads will support the critical mission by leveraging technologies with new capabilities on an aggressive schedule».

For this rapid acquisition program, both competitive payload teams were selected and placed under contract just 45 days after the prime contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin in 2018. Aiming to have their advanced payloads eventually integrated into Lockheed Martin’s resilient LM2100 Combat Bus space vehicle, the teams quickly completed preliminary design reviews in 2020 and critical design reviews in 2021. Both teams successfully completed environmental testing of their payload engineering development units.

Cryogenic Fuel Tank

A new type of large, fully-composite, linerless cryogenic fuel tank, designed and manufactured by Boeing, passed a critical series of tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at the end of 2021. The successful test campaign proves the new technology is mature, safe and ready for use in aerospace vehicles.

Space Launch System (SLS)
Boeing’s all-composite cryogenic fuel tank undergoing pressure testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (Boeing photo)

The 4.3-meter (14 foot) diameter composite tank is similar in size to the fuel tanks intended for use in the upper stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is the foundational capability in NASA’s Artemis lunar and deep space human exploration program. If the new composite technology were implemented in evolved versions of the SLS’s Exploration Upper Stage, the weight savings technology could increase payload masses by up to 30 percent.

«Composites are the next major technological advancement for large aerospace cryogenic storage structures», said Boeing Composite Cryotank Manufacturing Lead Carlos Guzman. «And while they can be challenging to work with, they offer significant advantages over traditional metallic structures. Boeing has the right mix of experience, expertise and resources to continue to advance this technology and bring it to market in a variety of applications across aerospace and aeronautics».

During the testing, which was funded by DARPA and Boeing, engineers from Boeing and NASA filled the vessel with cryogenic fluid in multiple test cycles, pressurizing the tank to expected operational loads and beyond. In the final test, which intended to push the tank to failure, pressures reached 3.75 times the design requirements without any major structural failure.

«NASA’s support through this testing has been invaluable», said Boeing Test Program Manager Steve Wanthal. «We were able to use their technical expertise and investments made in the testing infrastructure at the Marshall Space Flight Center to continue to advance this technology, which will ultimately benefit the entire industry».

Applications for the technology expand past spaceflight. The test which builds upon Boeing’s extensive experience with the safe use of hydrogen in aerospace applications will inform Boeing’s ongoing studies of hydrogen as a potential future energy pathway for commercial aviation. In addition to use in space programs, Boeing has completed five flight demonstration programs with hydrogen.

As a leading global aerospace company, Boeing develops, manufactures and services commercial airplanes, defense products and space systems for customers in more than 150 countries. As a top U.S. exporter, the company leverages the talents of a global supplier base to advance economic opportunity, sustainability and community impact. Boeing’s diverse team is committed to innovating for the future and living the company’s core values of safety, quality and integrity.

Space Force-8 Mission

Two Northrop Grumman Corporation Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites were successfully launched into orbit on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on January 21, 2022 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station as part of the U.S. Space Force (USSF)-8 mission. The two satellites, GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6, will enhance space situational awareness, a top priority for the U.S. Space Force. In addition to manufacturing and delivering both GSSAP payloads, Northrop Grumman also provided the sole strap-on solid rocket booster adding propulsion to the rocket launch, as well as essential aeronautical components in support of the USSF-8 launch.

Northrop Grumman-built GSSAP satellites collect space situational awareness data allowing for more accurate tracking and characterization of man-made orbiting objects

The GSSAP program delivers a space-based capability operating in a near-Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO), in support of the U.S. Space Command space surveillance operations. GSSAP satellites allow for more accurate tracking and characterization of orbiting objects and uniquely contribute to timely and precise orbital predictions, enhancing knowledge of the GEO environment and improving spaceflight safety. Northrop Grumman has manufactured all GSSAP satellites since the program’s inception in 2011.

«For over a decade, Northrop Grumman has delivered products that improve U.S. Space Command’s ability to monitor human-made orbiting objects in the geosynchronous environment», said Matt Verock, vice president, space security, Northrop Grumman. «As dedicated Space Surveillance Network (SSN) sensors, the capabilities our GSSAP satellites bring demonstrate our leadership in space domain awareness».

The company’s facilities in Dulles, Virginia along with Goleta and San Diego, California, and Beltsville, Maryland provided numerous subsystems, including the satellite’s solar arrays, primary structure, thermal control, avionic boxes, flight computer, shunt regulator assembly, composite components and deployable structures.

This was the third ULA Atlas V rocket launch supported by Northrop Grumman’s 63-inch-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63). The GEM 63 solid rocket booster, manufactured at the company’s Magna, Utah facility, provided nearly a third of the total thrust at liftoff. The GEM family of solid rocket motors recently expanded with the development of the GEM 63XL variation to support ULA’s Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle, scheduled for its first flight later this year.

The company manufactured the Atlas V rocket’s reaction control system propellant tanks at its Commerce, California, facility, and eight retro motors at its Elkton, Maryland, facility that assist first and second stage separation. Using advanced fiber placement manufacturing and automated inspection techniques, Northrop Grumman produced the composite heat shield that provides essential protection to the Atlas V first-stage engine, the Centaur Interstage Adapter that houses the second-stage engine, and the broadtail that adapts from the core vehicle to the five-meter diameter fairing. Northrop Grumman fabricated these structures at its Iuka, Mississippi, facility.

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.

Power Management

Airbus Crisa, an affiliate company of Airbus, has signed a contract for the development of the Power Management and Distribution (PMAD) system for the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) with Northrop Grumman.

Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO)
Airbus to develop the Power Management and Distribution System for key Lunar Gateway module

Airbus Crisa is a Spanish company founded in 1985 to design and manufacture electronic equipment and software for space applications, and engineering projects for ground stations. It is fully integrated into Airbus Defence and Space.

The new Lunar Gateway station, scheduled for launch in 2024, will initially have two modules and will be expanded in successive years to five modules. The station is intended to serve as a space laboratory as well as an intermediate logistics post for future trips to the surface of the Moon and on to Mars. The two initial modules are known as PPE and HALO. PPE (Power and Propulsion Element) has solar arrays that power the station and thrusters that allow it to maintain a stable orbit around the Moon. HALO is the Habitation and Logistics Outpost module where the astronauts will live during the estimated 40 days of the first missions.

«This contract worth more than $50 million reflects our ability to deliver highly specialised space equipment to global manufacturers and is our first contribution to the Moon-orbiting Gateway, which is part of NASA’s Artemis programme to return to the Moon», said Fernando Gómez-Carpintero, CEO of Airbus Crisa. «This is an exciting step as Airbus Crisa is designing the PMAD to become the standard modular power management system for all future space stations and human vehicles. We have provided a disruptive solution, with an architectural concept never before seen in the sector. This lays the foundations for a new international standard, placing the company at the forefront of the sector».

The PMAD has four power units and will manage the electricity from the solar panels of the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). It will distribute the power to onboard equipment and the rest of the station as required, always ensuring the safety of the crew on board. The PMAD will power the life support system, the interior lighting, the communications systems and the scientific experiments. It will ensure that HALO’s battery remains at optimal levels and is ready for use when the panels do not receive sufficient sunlight. PMAD must also provide power to visiting vehicles when they dock.

Airbus Crisa is a key international player in the fields of power conversion digital control and energy management and distribution for satellite and launcher applications thanks to the experience gained in the challenging European Space Agency (ESA) exploration missions. This contract demonstrates its great potential to provide reliable flight products to U.S. manufacturers.


Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco have teamed up to integrate unique human-machine interface technologies into NASA’s Orion spacecraft, providing an opportunity to learn how future astronauts could benefit from far-field voice technology, AI and tablet-based video collaboration.

Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco to Bring Voice Technology and Video Collaboration to The Moon

The Callisto technology demonstration will be integrated into NASA’s Orion spacecraft for the agency’s Artemis I uncrewed mission around the Moon and back to Earth. Callisto uses Amazon Alexa and Webex by Cisco to test and demonstrate commercial technology for deep space voice, video and whiteboarding communications. Lockheed Martin, which designed and built the Orion spacecraft for NASA, is leading the development and integration of the payload.

«Callisto will demonstrate a first-of-its-kind technology that could be used in the future to enable astronauts to be more self-reliant as they explore deep space», said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space for Lockheed Martin. «Callisto is a shining example of how new partnerships with commercial technologies can be flown on Orion to benefit future human deep space missions».

Callisto is named after a favorite companion of the Greek goddess Artemis. The payload features a custom hardware and software integration developed by engineers from Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco, and includes innovative technology that allows Alexa to work without an internet connection, and Webex to run on a tablet using NASA’s Deep Space Network.

«The Star Trek computer was part of our original inspiration for Alexa, so it’s exciting and humbling to see our vision for ambient intelligence come to life on board Orion», said Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Amazon Alexa. «We’re proud to be working with Lockheed Martin to push the limits of voice technology and AI, and we hope Alexa’s role in the mission helps inspire future scientists, astronauts and engineers who will define this next era of space exploration».

Since Artemis I is an uncrewed mission, Callisto partners have worked with NASA to build a virtual crew experience at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, allowing operators to interact with Callisto from the Mission Control Center. These remote interactions will test and demonstrate how voice and video collaboration technologies can help astronauts improve efficiency and situational awareness during their mission, providing access to flight status and telemetry, and the ability to control connected devices onboard Orion. Video and audio of the interactions will be transmitted back to Earth many times throughout the Artemis I mission, allowing engineers to analyze the performance of the onboard systems while also sharing interactions with the public.

«The future of technology is about igniting human potential whenever and wherever that may be – which will soon extend to the depths of space», said Jeetu Patel, executive vice president and general manager of Security and Collaboration at Cisco. «Through Callisto, Webex is enabling boundless video communications and collaboration in deep space while helping to provide the next generation with inclusive and immersive technology. This first-of-its-kind solution could one day support future crewed missions, providing face-to-face interaction between crew, command center and loved ones».

The Callisto technology demonstration will also allow students, families, space enthusiasts and the general public to engage with and virtually «ride along» with the Artemis I mission. They can follow the mission on Alexa-enabled devices by saying «Alexa, take me to the Moon», and the Webex video collaboration capabilities will offer opportunities for STEM education and remote classroom teaching events.

Artemis I is currently scheduled to launch in early 2022 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a multi-week journey around the Moon and back. Artemis I will provide the foundation for future crewed missions to the Moon and deep space and is part of NASA’s goal to land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.