Lockheed Martin’s Cubesats Demonstrate In-Orbit Satellite Servicing Technology
Lockheed Martin, a global aerospace and defense company, has achieved a significant breakthrough in in-orbit satellite servicing operations with its Linuss experiment. Linuss, which stands for Lockheed Martin’s In-space Upgrade Satellite System, is a key part of the company’s plans to create servicing vehicles for both commercial and government markets.
The experiment involved two small cubesats that were deployed 300 kilometers above geostationary orbit in November 2022, as part of the USSF-44 national security mission launched by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. The two cubesats, each the size of a toaster, were released three days apart, 750 kilometers away from each other. However, they were able to navigate within 400 meters of each other a month later, with one of the cubesats serving as the servicing vehicle and the other as the resident space object. Karla Brown, Linuss program manager, anticipates the two cubesats to come even closer, up to 200 meters, as the experiment continues.
The AI algorithms demonstrated in the Linuss experiment are the most significant achievement, as they will be critical to performing a space servicing mission. The successful demonstration of these algorithms will allow for future servicing missions that include in-orbit refueling, software upgrades, and other ways to extend the life of satellites. According to Brown, Lockheed Martin’s future vehicles will be capable of docking with either a cooperative or uncooperative satellite and perform the required upgrades or servicing.
In addition to demonstrating AI algorithms, the experiment helped to prove the maneuvering technology and software that can be used in any size mission. The new ground system that was used in the experiment is capable of using S-band communications to command and control Lockheed Martin’s LM 50 small line of satellites that the company is developing with bus manufacturer Terran Orbital.
The Linuss experiment tested space domain awareness cameras and a docking device that a servicing vehicle would need to refuel another satellite or attach a new sensor. The experiment also included the Augmentation System Port Interface (ASPIN), a port carried by one of the Linuss cubesats that Lockheed Martin is trying to commercialize.
Dan Tenney, vice president of strategy and business development, explained that the Linuss experiment 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. In addition to Linuss, the company has invested in a new mid-size bus that can be used for military, civil, or commercial applications. The bus recently completed electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic compatibility testing and is about to complete thermal vacuum testing.
Lockheed Martin also plans to launch three small satellites later this year, including two Pony Express 2 satellites and a TacSat, which will serve as test platforms for military networks attempting to connect air, ground, naval, and space systems.
The company is also working on a self-funded project called Parsec, which is a network of satellites in lunar orbit that will support other spacecraft around the moon or on the surface. The first satellites for the Parsec project are expected to launch in 2025, and Lockheed Martin created a subsidiary called Crescent Space Services to manage the project.
In conclusion, the success of the Linuss experiment is a significant step forward for Lockheed Martin’s plans to create servicing vehicles for both commercial and government markets. The company’s investment in space technology will allow them to transition these technologies to defense and civil space government programs, which will support future space exploration and development. The new breakthroughs in AI algorithms, maneuvering technology, and software will make servicing missions more feasible and cost-effective in the future.