COLORADO SPRINGS — A pair of Lockheed Martin cubesats that flew to geostationary Earth orbit in November performed maneuvers in close proximity and demonstrated other technologies for in-orbit servicing operations, company officials said April 17.

The Linuss experiment — short for Lockheed Martin’s In-space Upgrade Satellite System — went to orbit on the USSF-44 national security mission launched by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. 

The two cubesats, each the size of a toaster, were deployed 300 kilometers above geostationary orbit from a ring-shaped secondary payload that carried multiple smallsats. 

They were released three days apart about 750 kilometers away from each other and a month later they were navigating within 400 meters of each other, Karla Brown, Linuss program manager, told reporters during a news conference at Lockheed Martin’s technology center at the Catalyst Campus. 

One of the cubesats performed the role of servicing vehicle and the other was the resident space object. She said she expects the satellites to come even closer, to about 200 meters as the experiment continues. 

The more significant goal that was accomplished was proving AI algorithms that would be needed to perform a space servicing mission, Brown said. 

Plans to develop servicing vehicles

Lockheed Martin has long-term plans to develop servicing vehicles for the commercial and government markets, she added. “Our future vehicles will be able to dock with either a cooperative or uncooperative satellite and do any required upgrades or servicing.” 

These servicing missions would include in-orbit refueling, software upgrades and other ways to extend the life of satellites, Brown said. 

“The maneuvering technology and the software could be applied to any size mission,” Brown said. “The success of Linuss was really testing out the algorithms necessary to do that maneuvering.”

The experiment also helped to demonstrate a new ground system that uses S-band communications to command and control the company’s LM 50 small line of satellites that it’s building with bus manufacturer Terran Orbital. 

“Our vehicles are still flying. And so we hope to continue the demonstration to get even closer and continue to prove out those algorithms,” Brown said. 

Other goals of the experiment were to test space domain awareness cameras and support risk reduction of a docking port called Augmentation System Port Interface (ASPIN) that Lockheed Martin is trying to commercialize. Docking devices are used by servicing vehicles to refuel another satellite or attach a new sensor,

In a statement to SpaceNews, David Barnhart, technology director for the Linuss program, described the project as a “risk reduction for Lockheed Martin’s entry into on-orbit servicing and upgrades. Linuss proved out the flight software and complex algorithms required to support future docking activities.”

The next step, he said is to “actually fly and use the ASPIN docking adapter in the space environment.”

Company-funded projects

Linuss is one of several space projects that Lockheed Martin is funding to prove out technologies that the company hopes to transition to defense and civil space government programs, said Dan Tenney, vice president of strategy and business development.

Lockheed Martin has invested in a new mid-size bus, that it’s marketing for military, civil or commercial uses. Tenney said the bus recently completed electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic compatibility testing, and is about to complete thermal vacuum testing. 

Later this year, Lockheed Martin plans to launch three small satellites — two Pony Express 2 satellites and a TacSat (tactical intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications satellite) — to serve as test platforms for military networks that are trying to connect air, ground, naval and space systems. 

Another self-funded project is a service called Parsec, a network of satellites in lunar orbit to support other spacecraft around the moon or on the surface. Tenney said the plan is to offer communications and navigation services for government and commercial lunar missions.

Lockheed Martin first announced this new service March 28 with the creation of a subsidiary called Crescent Space Services. The first satellites are projected to launch in 2025.

Lockheed Martin’s Parsec concept for lunar communications and navigation

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...