J32.5 Small Satellites: New Normal? (Invited Presentation)

Tuesday, 9 January 2018: 3:30 PM
Room 9AB (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Carl Schueler, Schueler Consulting, Santa Barbara, CA; and P. E. Ardanuy

This talk reviews the advent and growing popularity of small satellites. A reduction in satellite cost from ~$1B to $1M (3 orders of magnitude!) with comparable capabilities portends a “sea-change” in environmental monitoring from space.

Since the 1960’s until recently, global environmental monitoring satellites have been slow and expensive to produce, test, launch and operate. In the 1960’s the United States introduced the first environmental-monitoring satellites. The initially classified Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) launched in the late 1960’s still operates large polar-orbiting satellites. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) introduced the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) and Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) introduced the Landsat polar-orbiting satellites in the early 1970’s, and the Earth Observing System (EOS) polar-orbiting satellites in the 1990’s. All use large satellite “buses” carrying numerous large instruments. They take a decade to develop, cost ~$1B, and require ~$100M dedicated launches and large, complicated and expensive ground-systems to receive and process their data.

In the late 1980’s, the “small satellite” was introduced via a private-public partnership to develop the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS). Orbital Sciences Corporation developed SeaWiFS, launched in 1997 and operated very successfully (anecdotally the ocean-color “gold standard”) until 2013 via a 1991 NASA data-purchase agreement. SeaWiFS cost ~$100M to develop and launch and used a small, relatively inexpensive privately-operated ground station.

Since SeaWiFS, the 10x10x10cm CubeSat was introduced to train students in satellite technology. CubeSats have since been developed for “operational” applications. The $2M SeaHawk program scheduled for 2018 launch illustrates this trend. At that almost incredibly low cost, two global coastal-ocean color 3U (30x10x10cm) CubeSats will address part of the National Academy’s 2011 sustained global ocean-color research recommendations. SeaHawk is only one of several scientific satellites under development, and we believe represents a trend towards replacement of large satellites by small, low-cost systems: the New Normal.

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