Harris says first cubesat performing well in orbit

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SAN FRANCISCO – Harris Corp.’s first small satellite, a six-unit cubesat launched Nov. 29 by India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, is fully operational, receiving commands and transmitting information to the satellite operations center in Palm Bay, Florida.

“This is a big deal for us because this is our first end-to-end solution,” Murali Krishnan, Harris Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance vice president and general manager, told SpaceNews. “It shows we are able to produce a satellite that can survive the launch environment, the environment of space. We can establish two-way communications and control the satellite.”

In the past, Harris was known primarily for building sensors and spacecraft components rather than entire spacecraft. In recent years, however, Harris has applied expertise gained supplying hosted payloads for Iridium Next communications satellites to develop its own small spacecraft.

Rather than pivoting toward a new business model, small satellites are one of many solutions Harris is offering customers, Krishnan said. “The small satellite capability enables our customers to have more agility, more flexibility and a more affordable solution,” he added.

HSAT, Harris Corp.'s first cubesat, is performing well in orbit and offering the company insight for future small satellites. Credit: Harris
HSAT, Harris Corp.’s first cubesat, is performing well in orbit and offering the company insight for future small satellites. Credit: Harris

In addition to Harris Satellite or HSAT, the company is working on “several small satellite missions” for customers, Krishnan said. He declined to discuss the projects except to say each one gives Harris “an opportunity to learn and provide a better offering down the road.”

HSAT is designed for flexibility, Krishnan said, adding the company can “reorient it, retask it and send guidance to do things differently.”

Harris is continuing a series of tasks to confirm the satellite, in orbit at an altitude  of about 550 kilometers, functions as designed. HSAT is designed to operate for two years or more, Krishnan said.

HSAT was one of 30 small satellites launched Nov. 29 on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle alongside the Indian HysIS hyperspectral imaging satellite.

Harris Corp. funded HSAT through internal research and development accounts. Krishnan declined to reveal the cost of the project but said Harris plans to spend $125 million on internal research and development in Florida during the 2019 fiscal year ending June 30. A Dec. 10 Harris press release said areas of internal research and development focus include small satellites, electronic warfare, robotics and avionics.