Customizable Satlets Aim to Make Space More Accessible

California-based NovaWurks will incorporate customer payloads to test the viability of its customizable HISat satlet concept

Founded in 2011 by a handful of industry veterans, NovaWurks has quickly become a destination provider of space technology products and services. Today, the team is fulfilling their vision of making space more accessible and customizable.

In the past, companies that wanted to put a satellite into space had to format and build satellite components around traditional industry-standard structures. These restrictions have long hindered space researchers who are forced to fit their components into satellite busses that might be an inconvenient shape or size. However, NovaWurks has a solution that will allow payloads to be built in a quick, flexible, and cost-effective way.

Rather than the traditional model of building monolithic satellites, NovaWurks has created “hyper-integrated satlets,” or HISats, that incorporate all the technology of a regular satellite, into a mass-produced 20 x 20 x 10 cm module or cell.

“They are practical in the same way that Legos can snap together and create whatever structure you please,” said James Greer, COO at NovaWurks.

NovaWurks’ HISats are equipped with standard functionality, including communication, pointing, power, data processing and propulsion. The specific role of the HISat is determined by software, and multiple HISats are combined together to work in harmony. If one HISat fails, the other units pick up the slack.

Contract with DARPA
The bulk of work NovaWurks has done so far has been for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). For the first mission, Satlet Initial Mission Proofs and Lessons (SIMPL), NovaWurks sent a disassembled satellite to space and became the first satellite assembled on board the International Space Station. The satellite was later deployed by ISS astronauts in the fall of 2017. NovaWurks’ second mission with DARPA was deployed shortly thereafter, further testing NovaWurks’ technology to perfect the design.

Spaceflight’s SSO-A: SmallSat Express will be NovaWurks’ third mission and the second DARPA-sponsored project. The NovaWurks team is using the SSO-A mission to fuse lessons learned from previous HISat-based missions with laboratory tested functionality to further demonstrate the viability of HISat-based spacecraft.

Payload within a payload

One of the most compelling aspects of NovaWurks’ third mission, named eXperiment for Cellular Integration Technologies (eXCITe), is that it incorporates payloads within the payload. Having active payloads onboard will further test the capability of the HISat concept and establish HISats as a promising solution for smallsat design.

This will give various entities the opportunity to test their payloads on a smaller spacecraft. These payloads include Maestro Flight Experiment (MFE) from the Information Science Institute at USC, a payload that demonstrates the operation of a modern, many-core radiation hardened processor (the Maestro ITC) in space, and NASA Langley Rapid Response Radiation Survey that tests atmospheric ionizing radiation to ensure aviation safety.

Each of the payloads aboard eXCITe are configured differently to demonstrate the validity of the satlet concept in various forms. NovaWurks will be monitoring eXCITe and ensure that all components perform and interact as intended.

The sky is not the limit
NovaWurks and Spaceflight share the vision that space should be more accessible. They believe that the latest tools for the exploration and understanding of our planet, and the surrounding universe, should be available to public and private entities alike.

Greer credits Spaceflight for helping coordinate the launch while NovaWurks worked to integrate the smaller payloads onto its primary payload. The company has worked with Spaceflight before, so they knew where to turn to ensure their launch needs were met.
“We appreciate Spaceflight’s flexibility and how their team has continued to support us throughout this mission,” said Greer.

NovaWurks’ platform enables a variety of organizations, from colleges and universities to commercial ventures and agencies, to envision and deploy affordable spacecraft built around their own payloads.

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