Surrey Satellite Selected to Evaluate Small Satellite Approach to GPS

Fri, 01/18/2013 - 12:50pm
Surrey Satellite Technology

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has selected Surrey Satellite Technology US LLC (SST-US) to investigate cost reduction and augmentation of the current GPS constellation through the application of the small satellite approach.

AFRL has contracted SST-US to identify and analyze how small satellites can improve aspects of GPS system performance such as accuracy, coverage, and robustness at costs far below those of past procurements. SST-US will examine how constellations of smaller satellites could improve the overall system performance and resilience, including ways to deliver high-power signals and alternative architectures for rapid commanding that could provide system capability improvement. The comprehensive study will incorporate details of the planned implementation, schedule, concept of operations, definition of the technical and programmatic risks, as well as the expected development, test, and operational costs.

Small satellites have become the focus of many institutional programs in recent years, as they have become ever more capable and demonstrated their importance. SST-US will draw upon the Surrey Satellite group’s 39-mission heritage to analyze the mass, power, and cost of medium-Earth-orbit-capable small satellites and how different launch configurations could reduce the cost and accelerate the timescales associated with GPS deployment.

Dr. John Paffett, CEO of SST-US, commented, “GPS is a hugely successful and important program, but sustaining and modernizing the service requires a new approach to reduce its operating cost. Using smaller satellites forces us to consider the system requirements and implementation, and this drives us towards more innovative and optimal solutions.”

In addition to the ability to implement a physical demonstration of new technological approaches, an important selection criterion for the award of the study was the technical merit of SST-US and the combined Surrey group. The Surrey group designed and built GIOVE-A, the first satellite in Europe’s Galileo GNSS system, in 29 months within a budget of approximately US$35 million (today). Operating in medium Earth orbit, the 650 kg satellite was declared a full mission success in 2008—the satellite recently completed its seventh year of operations, far surpassing its original 27-month mission. Building on this success, the Surrey group is now building payloads for the first 22 fully operational capability (FOC) satellites for the Galileo program.

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