Surrey Satellite Chosen By AFRL to Analyze Small Satellite Approach to GPS

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Surrey Satellite Technology USA LLC (SST-US) has been chosen by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to look into how using small satellites in the GPS constellation would affect cost and performance.


SST-US was contracted by AFRL to investigate whether using small satellites would affect the performance  of the GPS system in areas such as coverage, accuracy, and robustness, all while saving money on the smaller technology. SST-US plans to test whether or not the smaller satellite constellations will make the overall performance of the system better and more resilient, while at the same time discovering ways to bring improvements in system capability by delivering high-power signals and “alternative architectures for rapid commanding,” as reported by SST-US. The study will address such details as the groundwork for implementation, concept of operations, schedule, definition of technical and programmatic risks, and all costs associated with implementation.


The AFRL isn’t the first to look into the power of small satellites. The technology has become more useful and capable, and a number of institutional programs have taken note. SST-US will cover all the bases in their research, studying the mass, power, and cost of small satellites that are medium-Earth-orbit-capable, and different launch patterns that could bring the costs down while speeding up the process of GPS deployment.


CEO of SST-US Dr. John Paffett said, “GPS is a hugely successful and important program, but sustaining and modernizing the service requires a new approach to reduce its operating cost. Using smaller satellites forces us to consider the system requirements and implementation, and this drives us towards more innovative and optimal solutions.”


The AFRL based its decision to award SST-US with the contract due to their ability to implement an actual demonstration of different technological approaches, as well as the “technical merit” of the Surrey group as a whole. The Surrey group both designed and built the first satellite in Europe’s Galileo GNSS system in a mere 29 months with only $35 million to work with. This 650kg satellite has made it through seven years, much further than the initial 27-month mission.

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Khristen Foss

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