Lockheed Martin performs in-space demonstration of satellite servicing technology

The defense and aerospace giant is developing a system for repairing small satellite constellations from space.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Lockheed Martin's technology.
An artist's impression of Lockheed Martin's technology.

Lockheed Martin 

Lockheed Martin has completed a demonstration of its automated CubeSat technology for in-space servicing of active satellite constellations.

The defense and aerospace firm's In-space Upgrade Satellite System (LM LINUSS) could be used to increase the lifespan of small satellite constellations, a press statement reveals.

Servicing satellites in space

As Earth's orbit is increasingly filled up with satellite constellations — to the consternation of many astronomers — organizations and space agencies are increasingly looking for ways to repair these valuable assets from space.

Most repair technologies to date, such as Northrop Grumman's Mission Extension program, have focused on repairing large satellites, typically in a geostationary or geosynchronous orbit.

Now, though, Lockheed Martin has performed the first successful demonstration of its LM LINUSS technology, which will focus on repairing small CubeSats, also referred to as nanosatellites. CubeSats are often the size of a loaf of bread or a shoe box, meaning they are particularly challenging to repair.

The LM LINUSS program uses CubeSats to repair CubeSats. To be precise, it uses a toaster-sized LM 50 2U CubeSat designed to perform highly-automated rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO).

Lockheed Martin demonstrates key CubeSat servicing technologies

During the recent in-space demonstration, one satellite acted as the target while the other acted as the service spacecraft. The service vessel used online navigation algorithms and artificial intelligence software to successfully rendezvous with the target.

"The LM LINUSS pathfinder is an excellent example of how Lockheed Martin is investing in innovation in the real world," explained Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of Military Space. "Agile development, cloud-based operations, and smallsat platforms came together at speed and in orbit, where the real test of technology occurs. Through the accomplishments of LM LINUSS, Lockheed Martin is pioneering how future small and medium class missions will be upgraded on-orbit, and continuing to develop critical, breakthrough technologies that keep our customers ahead of ready."

Lockheed Martin explained that the service CubeSat also demonstrated several other technologies, including a low-toxicity propulsion system and machine vision. It also allowed the defense and aerospace giant to validate the use of 3D-printed components for its CubeSat repair system.

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