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3 pillars of new space technology

3 Key Areas Shaping ‘New Space’ Technologies

The space industry is growing rapidly as commercial entities join government agencies in the growing area of ‘New Space.’ Innovation has made it more cost effective to develop new space systems and launch payloads into space, which in turn has enabled a wider range of organizations to participate in the space sector.

Space Technology Today

Regardless of orbit, space electronics are subjected to severe shock levels, temperature fluctuations, powerful EMI and varying levels of radiation. The intense levels of radiation and heat can cause a multitude of problems for electronic components and become very expensive if broadly applied to space electronics, since not every space mission requires such intense radiation protection.

Space suppliers looking to meet cost restraints, while still applying radiation resistance, have turned to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components. COTS systems are capable of capitalizing on proven computing technologies in rugged space environments to create a cost-effective method to rapidly push forward innovative growing areas of space technologies, including payloads, launch and landers and future habitats.

3 Influential Pillars of Next-Gen Space

While there are a multitude of technologies fueling the growth of the space industry, there are three leading areas poised to significantly shift the space market.

Payloads & Satellites

Payload systems have grown more sophisticated with communication, navigation, observation, human support, scientific, cargo, etc., all coming together to help determine the capabilities and limitations of developmental space electronics. The challenge here is to keep these dense payloads compact and lightweight to reduce costs and real estate on the spacecraft, yet also ruggedized enough to survive the severe environment of both launch and in-orbit operations.

Scientific payloads is an interesting growth area, such as OSIRIS-REx, designed to take samples from the Bennu asteroid and provide NASA with insight as its close orbit can potentially be hazardous to Earth. Aitech’s S950 SBC is developed to handle long term LEO and lunar environments capable of providing extensive and reliable technology for intense data processing in orbit.

One of the largest forms of payload systems is satellite technology. Satellites have emerged as one of the driving forces of the space market. The big drivers of increased activity in this field are the ever-falling cost of putting satellites into orbit and the growing number of use cases for the data they can provide. By implementing COTS technology, SmallSats and CubeSats are rapidly replacing their larger predecessors. By sending hundreds of networked satellites into LEO, a unified constellation has created almost limitless redundancy. If one satellite fails, another can take its place and function.

This is expanding communication, earth observation, surveillance and research and development within the space industry. For example, by providing turnkey access to space, LizzieSat, the flagship multi-mission microsatellite from Sidus Space, seamlessly links with the Sidus constellation to access the full in-space services of the Sidus fleet. In working with Sidus Space, we were able to provide the custom Command and Data Handling (C&DH) flight computers and peripherals for this influential program.

LizzieSat microsatellites from Sidus Space
LizzieSat microsatellites from Sidus Space

Habitat & Transport

The expansion of space exploration has opened the possibilities of habitats to safely host humans in the harsh environment of space, ultimately providing long-term, sustainable living space. One of the latest long-term sustainable habitats being developed is NASA’s HALO Lunar Gateway. HALO will be humanity’s first permanent home away from Earth. The extensive capabilities of HALO supports crew activities that enable sustainable operations around the moon, including science operations, mission preparations and communication with ground and lunar assets. Aitech’s SP0-S SBC is integrated into HALO to provide high performance processing and enhanced memory storage.

Lockheed Martin Callisto Payload
Lockheed Martin Callisto Payload

Habitats like HALO and the Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft that was flown during the recent Artemis I mission to the Moon and back is a huge step forward in the progress towards establishing habitats in the near future. Aitech not only provided a media converter that provided information connectivity as the main conduit data interface between Orion and the Electrical Ground Service Equipment (EGSE), but our C878 3U VPX SBC provided the computational core of Callisto, a combination of Alexa and WebEX, and intercom capabilities as part of a vehicle-connected crew interface technology demonstration.

Launchers & Landers

In order to release payloads into space, launchers must provide a massive amount of momentum to overcome Earth’s gravity and successfully put space systems into the designated orbit. To prevent high costs and a limited lifespan, recent developments and evaluations have encouraged reusable launchers for more innovative and cost-effective solutions for space.

When it comes to destinations with an atmosphere, NASA faces the challenge on how to deliver these payloads and protect them from the forces of impact. Advances in space technology has enabled NASA to develop Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator, also known as LOFTID.  Aitech’s NVIDIA-based, space-characterized S-A1760 Venus AI supercomputer became the first use of GPGPU technology in space during the successful launch and re-entry of NASA’s LOFTID. This technology enables a variety of proposed NASA missions to destinations such as Mars, Venus, Titan as well as return to Earth.

NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID)
NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID)

The Future of Space Technology

The space industry is growing and will continue to grow as opportunities arise. Digital and advanced space technologies are helping new players venture into an increasing number of orbital systems. With cost effective COTS-based electronics expanding throughout space technology, connectivity throughout low-earth orbit to deep space missions is expanding the intelligence of space technology and the industry. The expansion of payloads, habitats, launchers and landers are redefining the possibilities of space exploration.