Center for Small Satellite Systems and Technology for Observation and Exploration

Center for Small Satellite Systems and Technology for Observation and Exploration


William Edmonson, Ph.D.

The Center for Small Satellite Systems and Technology for Observation and Exploration at NIA exists with the directive of advancing the capabilities, functionality, and scope of mission, for pico, nano, and micro-class satellites. The objective is to enable these satellites, whether to operate reliably and/or autonomously, for earth observations or deep-space missions with little to no human interaction. As these satellites represent a new frontier in satellite technology, the area is opportune for developing new functions for this class of satellite system, a driver for miniaturization of payload, and to develop new processes that govern their design and their capabilities. Research thrusts at the Center are two-fold: to develop satellite systems and subsystems, and to develop a systems engineering methodology, processes and tools that is optimized for flexible and reconfigurable space systems with the goal of providing a reduced design, build, and launch life cycle for reliable small satellites.

Current Research Activities

Systems Engineering: This project aims to develop theoretically sound methods and tools for the design and integration of Cyber Physical Systems (CPS) that require both hard guarantees on the performance of safety critical systems, as well as balanced tradeoffs between the severely limited resources of size, mass, power, and cost (SMaP-C).  The currently proposed approach builds on theoretical foundations of formal verification, controls theory, and decision theory, to develop methods and tools that result in rational design choices – rational, as determined by the preferences and beliefs of the systems engineer. Work is being conducted to develop appropriate model abstractions of all components, subsystems, their functions and behaviors.

Micro-propulsion: Development of micro-propulsion thrusters will enable a host of new mission capabilities.  These thrusters are required to deliver thrust values over the range from micro-Newton to Newton levels, at high thrust efficiencies and be of low mass and power usage.  In addition to this other desirable characteristics include the ability for on demand operations i.e. turn on /off, small impulse burns, thrust throttling, and simplicity in design, fabrication and execution.  Candidate micro-propulsions systems being investigated are Field Effect Electric Propulsion systems (FEEP) and solar-powered system based on thermal propulsion.

Digital Avionics: Design and implement the small satellite on-board computing system, i.e. both hardware and software components. Its attributes will consist of flexible and reliable architecture and with an RTOS that has autonomic features, but is consistent with the SMAP-C design constraint. Another feature of this design is to be a small satellite test bench for evaluating the performance and interoperability of the many components that make up the small satellite platform, e.g., to evaluate system performance and reliability attributes through dynamically definable metrics and to provide a platform for verification and validation.





100 Exploration Way
Hampton, VA 23666