Where no commercial satellite bus has gone before

Lockheed Martin

This text initially appeared within the Sept. 10, 2018 problem of SpaceNews journal.

If all goes as at present deliberate, someday in 2022 a rocket will carry off, more than likely from Cape Canaveral, carrying a payload that at the beginning look will look acquainted. The boxy form and folded-up photo voltaic arrays will make it resemble most of the commercial communications satellites launched from the Cape and elsewhere.

This payload, although, gained’t be destined for geostationary orbit. As an alternative, the spacecraft will head to cislunar area. Formally generally known as the Energy and Propulsion Factor (PPE), will probably be the primary element of NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, or just Gateway, that may ultimately host crews orbiting the moon.

Lockheed MartinLockheed Martin

The resemblance of the PPE to commercial GEO satellites is deliberate. NASA expects that corporations will suggest designs based mostly on satellite buses they already construct, augmented with superior electrical propulsion techniques being developed by NASA. By doing so, the company expects to get a spacecraft that will probably be inexpensive and quicker to construct than a customized design, whereas corporations get to exhibit superior applied sciences — and get a welcome little bit of further enterprise throughout an prolonged dip in commercial satellite orders.

“We looked at what we needed for a space tug,” stated Invoice Gerstenmaier, NASA affiliate administrator for human exploration and operations, throughout an Aug. 29 assembly of the NASA Advisory Council on the Ames Analysis Middle in California. “We looked at that spacecraft bus and it was very similar to a communications bus on orbit that exists today.”

That led NASA to hunt to leverage that functionality for the PPE. “The commercial satellite industry has a lot of experience in operating those buses. They generate millions and billions of dollars of revenue each year,” he stated. “They have extremely high reliability. They operate for 15 years, 20 years sometimes.”

That led NASA to determine to utilize these present platforms fairly than provide you with a customized design that meets particular NASA technical necessities. “The commercial satellite industry has a demonstrated reliability. We need to make sure we don’t undo that demonstrated reliability by laying our requirements on top,” Gerstenmaier stated.

The PPE, because the identify suggests, is primarily designed to offer energy and propulsion for the general Gateway. The spacecraft can be required to supply 50 kilowatts of energy, of which 40 kilowatts will probably be obtainable for an electrical propulsion system designed to maneuver the spacecraft in cislunar area, together with into totally different orbits across the moon. It’s going to carry 2 tons of xenon propellant for that electrical propulsion system with the potential to be refueled. The spacecraft may also help communications with Earth in addition to different spacecraft visiting the Gateway and, later, spacecraft working on the lunar floor.

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NASA expects corporations to make use of their present satellite functionality for improvement of the PPE. “We are leveraging not only the NASA capability but also intend to leverage U.S. industry’s current capabilities and industry’s future plans,” stated Michele Gates, director of the PPE challenge at NASA Headquarters, throughout a gathering of the NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration and operations committee Aug. 27.

That functionality, she stated, will permit the spacecraft to be prepared for launch in 2022 regardless that NASA gained’t award a remaining contract for its improvement till spring 2019, a schedule some are skeptical about. “I just don’t see any way in the world that schedule will work,” argued one committee member.

The three-year schedule, Gates stated, is predicated on business’s expertise in constructing commercial satellites in that time-frame, and former research with corporations on the PPE. “Our intent is to leverage existing commercial system development,” she stated.

“We believe that we can use basically a commercial satellite bus, augmented with electric propulsion, to meet our needs,” Gerstenmaier added. “We don’t need a unique spacecraft design. We don’t need a unique bus.”

Drawing on commercial expertise

That confidence that a commercial satellite bus might function the spine for the Gateway is predicated on earlier work NASA has executed with business. In November, NASA awarded research to 5 corporations — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Company and Area Methods Loral (SSL) — to look at technical points related to the PPE design.

These four-month research left each NASA and business assured that commercial designs could be tailored to be used in constructing the PPE. “One of the things that we looked at is how do we incorporate our different product lines into the PPE. It’s very much focused on commercial components and systems,” stated Tim Cichan, an area exploration architect at Lockheed Martin, throughout a panel dialogue on the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Propulsion and Power Discussion board in July in Cincinnati.

Cichan stated Lockheed’s research based mostly the PPE on its LM2100 satellite bus used for commercial satellites, but in addition drew on the corporate’s expertise creating interplanetary spacecraft for NASA and the Orion spacecraft underneath improvement for transporting astronauts past Earth orbit. He added the corporate has in depth expertise with electrical propulsion, corresponding to on its LM2100 bus, though to not the identical scale as deliberate with the PPE.

“The commercial satellite industry has a demonstrated reliability. We need to make sure we don’t undo that demonstrated reliability by laying our requirements on top,” stated NASA’s human spaceflight chief, Invoice Gerstenmaier, proven above on the ISS mission management middle in Moscow. Credit score: NASA“The commercial satellite industry has a demonstrated reliability. We need to make sure we don’t undo that demonstrated reliability by laying our requirements on top,” stated NASA’s human spaceflight chief, Invoice Gerstenmaier, proven above on the ISS mission management middle in Moscow. Credit score: NASA

Some modifications to the commercial bus, although, might be required for it to function in cislunar area, he acknowledged. “Navigation solutions are different, the radiation environment is different,” he stated. “So, we want to be respectful of those differences while also maximizing the use of commercial products.”

SSL can also be planning to utilize its in depth expertise in commercial satellites to develop the PPE. Al Tadros, vice chairman for area infrastructure and civil area at SSL, talked about that have in the course of the AIAA panel, but in addition the corporate’s newer work on satellite servicing techniques.

“Reliability, and the approach to reliability in the commercial industry, was one the significant topic areas” within the earlier research, he stated. “NASA, to their credit, was genuinely looking at how commercial industry addresses reliability, and how it addresses it differently from simple redundancy.”

Northrop Grumman Innovation Methods — the brand new identify for Orbital ATK after its acquisition by Northrop Grumman closed in June — needed to make sure that its design for the PPE made use of applied sciences from its commercial GEO satellites in addition to its Mission Extension Car, a spacecraft designed to increase the lifetime of different GEO satellites.

“On the one hand, we’re designing for a single point solution, which is the first element of the Gateway,” stated Sally Richardson, vice chairman and program supervisor for the superior program division at Northrop Grumman Innovation Methods. “We’re also looking at how we leverage our commercial product lines. By utilizing this commercial, public-private approach, we’re looking at a more economical solution for this element of the Gateway.”

Richardson stated her firm’s idea is predicated on a model of its Mission Extension Car referred to as the Mission Transportation Car. “We see the PPE opportunity as one that will bring us from the markets in LEO and GEO and enable us to expand our mission portfolio out to cislunar space and beyond,” she stated.

Among the many 5 corporations that studied the PPE ideas, Sierra Nevada stands out as the one one with out expertise constructing GEO satellites. The corporate has constructed smaller LEO satellites, together with the second-generation Orbcomm satellite constellation, however doesn’t have the expertise of constructing giant numbers of GEO buses like the opposite companies included within the earlier research.

Sierra Nevada is as an alternative benefiting from its expertise on NASA’s commercial cargo program, the place it has a contract to develop a model of its Dream Chaser spaceplane to ferry cargo to and from the Worldwide Area Station. That system will embrace a further cargo module hooked up to the Dream Chaser.


Kevin Clinton of Sierra Nevada stated on the AIAA panel that the corporate is utilizing a model of that cargo module because the bus for its PPE idea. “We had this available off the shelf. It was already designed,” he stated. “Using that as part of the structure for the PPE saves us a ton of time and development.”

Procurement improvements

Apart from leveraging commercial applied sciences, NASA each NASA and the businesses need to deal with the precise procurement of the PPE in a different way. “NASA has very intentionally and very significantly looked at doing this acquisition differently,” stated Tadros.

NASA doesn’t plan to make use of a conference procurement course of, involving a request for proposals and number of a profitable bidder who then supplies the required hardware for NASA. The company is as an alternative utilizing an alternate mechanism, referred to as a broad company announcement (BAA), sometimes used for analysis and improvement efforts quite than hardware acquisition. NASA issued the ultimate model of the BAA Sept. 6, with proposals because of the company Nov. 15.

Strictly talking, the BAA doesn’t purchase the PPE, at the very least not initially. As an alternative, the BAA is for a “Spaceflight Demonstration of a Power and Propulsion Element.” The corporate — or corporations — that obtain an award underneath this program might be chargeable for creating and launching the PPE, then demonstrating its efficiency in cislunar area for as much as a yr.

On the finish of that one-year demonstration interval, across the time NASA anticipates launching further elements of the Gateway, the company can then train an choice within the BAA to accumulate the PPE.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, center during a visit SpaceX’s facilities at Kennedy Space Center, established a new advisory committee that will study potential obstacles to commercial cooperation. Credit: Kim Shifflet for NASANASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, middle throughout a go to SpaceX’s amenities at Kennedy Area Middle, established a brand new advisory committee that may research potential obstacles to commercial cooperation. Credit score: Kim Shifflet for NASA

That strategy required some effort inside NASA to adapt the BAA idea to this challenge. “The legal and contracting teams did a really good job,” Gerstenmaier stated on the NASA Advisory Council assembly, calling it a “deviated” BAA with the inclusion of some NASA-specific necessities and choice to accumulate the PPE after the demonstration interval.

“We were able to take a very strict contracting construct, and with two simple deviations, we were able to turn that around into a product we could actually use and move forward,” he stated.

On the council assembly, Gerstenmaier acquired reward from business for that procurement flexibility. “It was extraordinary in terms of the attention that was being paid to private-sector feedback,” stated Mike Gold, vice chairman at Maxar Applied sciences, the father or mother firm of SSL. “It was singular in my experience.”

Future plans

Gold praised NASA partially as a result of the PPE was not meant as a set-aside of types for commercial business improvement. “You’d expect that out of commercial crew or cargo,” he stated. “To implement that with PPE was extraordinary and I think appreciated by industry.”

However is that this a development or a one-off case? NASA continues to be engaged on its acquisition technique for the Gateway, together with figuring out which elements might be offered by worldwide companions, which will probably be constructed by way of extra typical contracting and which might be finished in a extra commercial method just like the PPE.

On the similar time, the Gateway itself has turn into a bigger, extra complicated car. When NASA rolled out plans for what was then referred to as the Deep Area Gateway in 2017, the spacecraft was minimalistic: a PPE, a habitation module, a logistics module and, perhaps, an airlock. Since then, largely as a consequence of talks with worldwide companions, the Gateway’s design has grown to incorporate a second habitation module and extra “utilization” modules for habitation, storage or different work.

Some in business have recommended one other alternative to do a extra commercial procurement could also be for the U.S. habitation module for the Gateway. A number of corporations have NASA-funded research in progress about creating habitation modules for the Gateway, together with improvement of prototypes for ground-based testing. In some instances, corporations made clear their curiosity in creating not only a single habitat module for the Gateway but in addition commercial modules for the ISS or its private-sector successors.

NASA’s management seems open to higher commercial partnerships. On the council assembly, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine introduced the formation of a brand new committee inside the council targeted on regulatory and coverage points, and chaired by Gold. Its scope will embrace learning potential obstacles to larger cooperation with the personal sector and use of commercial capabilities.

Gerstenmaier, on the council assembly, sounded hopeful that the PPE will probably be a mannequin for future elements. “I think the agency is starting to embrace this new way of doing business.”