Lockheed Martin [LMT] on Wednesday announced a new satellite venture that will allow systems to be configured for new missions while in orbit through smartphone-like application updates, with the company already securing one government customer to be announced in April.
SmartSat, the new software-defined technology, is currently being integrated on 10 programs, and the company is planning launches for two efforts on nanosatellites in 2019.
“We want the satellites of the future to operate more like smartphones. We wants apps to be uploaded so that you can change the mission on the fly, and be able to do that while the satellite is in orbit,” Maria Demaree, Lockheed Martin Space’s vice president for mission solutions, told reporters Wednesday. “These new software-defined satellites are really going to revolutionize space. With this groundbreaking technology we are leading that path.”
The SmartSat program will begin with two rapid-prototype testbed satellites, the Linus and Pony Express nanosats, to prove out the ability to rapidly update mission configuration after systems have been launched and are in orbit.
Linus will deliver two 12U cubesats to perform a technology demonstration mission, and Pony Express will include multiple 6U satellites over two separate pathfinders to test cloud computing infrastructure and space-to-space networking, according to officials.
Chris Pettigrew, a Lockheed Martin spokesman, told reporters the nanosats are expected to remain in space for up to three years with officials looking to validate the technology within months after launch.
A launch for Pony Express 1 will happen in the next months, followed by Pony Express 2 and the Linus nanosat at a later date, according to Pettigrew.
Pettigrew confirmed Lockheed Martin has one government customer for SmartSat with plans to detail that program at next month’s Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“This is real. This is happening this year. It’s not conceptual. We’re ready to launch and move out with this technology,” Demaree said.
Adam Johnson, program manager for SmartSat, said the program will increase computing capacity on future satellites to allow customers more flexibility for mission configurations through a similar to process to upgrading smartphones or downloading new apps.
“We’ve been pretty limited by the overall compute power that we have in orbit. What SmartSat does is it actually launches with excess capacity, so that we can improve a mission even after launch,” Johnson told reporters. “SmartSat is our answer to our customer’s need to go fast.”
Johnson said Lockheed Martin’s plan is to eventually offer SmartSat technology across its family of satellite buses.