The Pentagon announced May 29 that its Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program office has selected a SpaceDev-built spacecraft over two other candidate payloads for the upcoming launch of Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 1 rocket.
Using modular designs and off-the-shelf components,
SpaceDev’s Trailblazer satellite is intended to
pave the way for the spacecraft platforms that will be needed for ORS missions.
The satellite was developed as part of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s Distributed Sensing Experiment, which was intended to examine technology that could aid the development
of inexpensive small satellites for spotting and tracking ballistic missiles. That experiment was canceled last year.
The Trailblazer spacecraft does not include a payload, according to Maj. Dayan Araujo, an Air Force spokeswoman.
On orbit operations will focus on the functional checkout of the satellite bus itself, she said in a May 29 written response to questions.
Trailblazer will launch in late June aboard a Falcon 1 rocket launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The Falcon 1 has not placed a payload in orbit in its two launches to date.
In an effort to demonstrate the flexibility and responsiveness that are central to the ORS concept, the ORS program office considered three payloads for the upcoming launch. The idea was
to make a selection much closer to the liftoff date than typically is the case. The two other payloads considered were:
the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Plug and Play satellite platform, which was the first choice, but trailed the others in terms of readiness; and CUSat, which was developed under a partnership between the Air Force and Cornell University. CUSat
consists of two tiny satellites that would separate in space, with one taking images of the other and sending them to the ground to demonstrate an orbital inspection capability.
Araujo noted in the written response that the Jumpstart mission’s timeframe was “very aggressive,” and said that the Plug and Play satellite bus was not ready to support the final integrated testing with other flight hardware in time to meet the schedule goal.
The ORS program office is looking at other potential launch opportunities for the Plug and Play bus, though it has not yet identified a specific launch target, Araujo said. ”
We do want to fly it so that it can be tested on orbit as risk reduction to future ORS applications,” she said.
Trailblazer and the Plug and Play bus take significantly different approaches to meeting the goal of a modular spacecraft bus that can be used for a variety of missions, Araujo said.
Trailblazer is based on commercially available components, which helps demonstrate inexpensive and rapid integration of existing hardware, Araujo said. The Air Force Research Laboratory designed the Plug and Play bus to accommodate the integration of different components and sensors by
using open standards and interfaces and components that each “communicate” with the bus through a software “translation” module they are mounted on, she said.
A major goal of the [Plug and Play] program is developing hardware and software technologies that make it possible to add mission-defined hardware to a spacecraft in much the same way computer peripherals are added to a modern PC,”
With the Plug and Play bus not ready, the ORS program office decided that Trailblazer’s ability to lay the groundwork for future ORS spacecraft platforms was more applicable to advancing ORS goals than CUSat, Araujo said.
Peter Wegner, director of the ORS program office, said in the May 29 news release that the office remains interested in “seeing all three of these spacecraft successfully complete their missions, and will work with the broader community to make that desire a reality.”
SpaceDev has delivered the Trailblazer spacecraft to the ORS program office, according to a May 29 news release from the Poway, Calif.
“We believe that this launch will help usher in a new era of responsive space and lead the way as a standard in low cost, modular
and flexible small satellites,”
Mark Sirangelo, SpaceDev chairman and chief executive officer
, said in the news release.