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Command Center — Steven Schenk
V.P. + G.M., Comtech AeroAstro

SchenkHead Mr. Steven Schenk serves as the Vice President and General Manager of Defense Programs for Comtech AeroAstro, Inc. In this role, Mr. Schenk is responsible for execution on all emerging defense programs. Prior to this appointment, Mr. Schenk was the Director of Advanced Concepts while concurrently functioning as Program Manager for the AFRL’s Advanced Plug-and-Play Technologies Program to further develop and reduce risk for emerging Plug-and-Play technologies. Mr. Schenk additionally functioned as Program Manager of the Comtech AeroAstro ORS Multi-mission Modular Space Vehicle preliminary design phase program. He led the team that developed a flexible ORS spacecraft design that employed plug-and-play technology throughout. Mr. Schenk has over 20 years of experience in program management, engineering management, project leadership, structures/mechanisms engineering and space segment/spacecraft systems engineering in the satellite and alternative energy industries. Mr. Schenk has a proven track record in spacecraft design and development. Prior to working at Comtech AeroAstro, Mr. Schenk was the Program Manager responsible for the NASA Goddard GLAST space vehicle and DARPA Streak space vehicle programs at General Dynamics.

MilSatMagazine (MSM)
How long has Comtech AeroAstro been in business?

ComCentFig1 Steve Schenk
Comtech AeroAstrohas been providing innovative space components and microsatellites since 1988. There have been a few acquisitions; most recently, we were acquired by Comtech Telecommunications.

Steve, what can you tell us about your career and the programs you’ve managed?

Steve Schenk
I started out as a Structure Design Engineer at Spectrum Astro in 1991, performing that role on a number of Spectrum Astro space vehicles. I then took over the Structures Department and managed 12 structures engineers.

After being at Spectrum Astro for about 10 years, I was promoted to Program Manager and managed the DARPA STREAK and NASA GLAST programs. DARPA STREAK was a 24-month, single-string spacecraft with minimal mission assurance requirements and GLAST was a major NASA Observatory program, which was fully redundant and had a 48-month development timeframe.

ComtechEF_ad_MSM0911.jpg This contradiction in space vehicles provided a very well rounded experience base that allows effective management of Comtech AeroAstro Defense Projects such as the JMAPS program for the Naval Research Laboratory and the Advanced Plug-and Play Technologies Program for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

What can you tell us about the current Defense trend in small satellites?

Steve Schenk
In today’s limited government budget environment, the push is towards smaller spacecraft with more rapid development times (less than 24 months) than traditional systems, which are averaging 48-60 month development timelines. I have always been a proponent of small satellites and the “faster, better, cheaper” philosophy. Customers can field systems with high utility, lower cost, and high reliability in a very rapid timeframe to meet their mission needs. This is a trend that I hope is embraced for a generation as the fielding of smaller systems with high utility sustains our country’s diminishing spacecraft workforce, fields a variety of key operational systems to meet a growing national defense threat from other nations, and lowers system cost through increased procurement of unique spacecraft components.

How did the plug-and-play program begin? Why was it developed?

Steve Schenk
Over the last few years, Space PlugandPlay (PnP) development and risk reduction efforts have resulted in significant progress toward a demonstration of viable PnP hardware andsoftware architecture with the potential to change the paradigm of space mission development. Successful implementation of PnP architecture will result in vastly reduced development timelines, enhanced component or system response to detected faults. Our unique and robust fault management approach reduces risk at the PnP hardware component level (including power hub, SpaceWire router, and Appliqué Sensor Interface Module [ASIM]) while incorporating the current SDM software as a baseline—but does not depend on any specific hardware platform for hosting.

ComCentFig2 MSM
How will PnP affect the satellite future?

Steve Schenk
PnP has two key impacts on future satellites including,
Significant reduction of satellite non-recurring costs (NRE), and,
Development of reconfigurable systems in months versus years.

First, Comtech AeroAstro has done a detailed business case analysis using PnP, and we are highly confident that adoption of PnP can save a traditional satellite program 30 percent, mostly in non-recurring engineering costs due to adherence to standard interfaces at the hardware and software levels. This NRE reduction enables Comtech AeroAstro to be much more cost competitive in an environment of reduced government procurements.
Second, use of PnP allows Comtech AeroAstro to rapidly reconfigure our satellite bus for different components, subsystems, payloads, and/or missions in days versus years with minimal impact to program cost or schedule.

What else are you currently working on at Comtech AeroAstro?

ComCentFig3 Steve Schenk
Comtech AeroAstro has invested heavily in a high-performance cubesat, which we call Coral. The Coral bus design meets the stringent pointing/slew requirements of electro-optical or space situational awareness missions, as well as the higher payload power requirements for communications or synthetic aperture radar missions. The power design features two deployed solar array wings along with a Lithium-Ion battery that provides significant payload power during all mission timeframes. The attitude determination and control subsystem features excellent agility/stability performance and excellent pointing accuracy performance through the use of a miniature star tracker, also developed by Comtech AeroAstro. Coral’s communications system features a high data rate transceiver supporting these specialized missions. Coral’s avionics subsystem communicates over a high bandwidth, standardized bus that provides a number of external interface options to the payload. The command and data handling software architecture allows rapid integration of any payload hardware or software option with little or no impact to the bus architecture design at any point within the program timeline. Coral facilitates rapid assembly and disassembly of the spacecraft and provides clear access to external interfaces at all times. The Coral bus also provides the ability to be easily upgraded for additional capabilities (e.g., addition of propulsion and power, downlink and encryption upgrades).

ComCentFig4 More info at http://www.aeroastro.com/

About Comtech AeroAstro
Comtech AeroAstro, Inc. manufactures satellite systems, components, and advanced communications technologies. Its spacecraft and components incorporate modular architectures and plug-n-play technologies in an efficient, agile, and highly responsive design and integration environment. The firm has developed and launched a variety of highly capable small spacecraft platforms including the DoD Space Test Program’s STPSat-1 on the first ESPA launch in March 2007, and the STPSat-2 bus delivered in December 2008 and launched in November of 2010. In March 2010, the United States Navy’s Naval Research Laboratory awarded the firm the spacecraft bus design and development contract for the Joint Milli-Arcsecond Pathfinder Survey (JMAPS) mission. Innovative payload solutions that apply systems engineering expertise focused on RF and EO phenomenology, space situational awareness and low data rate communications technology are developed. In addition, reliable, low size, weight and power satellite components, all designed and engineered for multiple mission applications, are offered.

Current Comtech AeroAstro (CAA) Projects

The Company has developed a novel, new, and revolutionary approach to support Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Space Traffic Control called the Payload Alert Communications System (PACS). PACS provides low-cost, low-size, weight and power (SWAP) position, velocity, time (PVT) information along with low-data rate Host vehicle health and status reporting using the CAA patented Code Phase Division Multiple Access (CPDMA™) waveform. CAA uses a unique tagging, tracking and locating (TT&L) device in conjunction with the existing Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system and Globalstar data-messaging infrastructure to provide PACS services to users.

ComCentFig5 PACS is an innovative approach to significantly reduce the manpower required to monitor and develop space situational awareness (SSA) associated with LEO spacecraft of all shapes and sizes. PACS leverages the CAA-developed Sensor Enabled Notification System (SENS) technology developed for terrestrial tagging and tracking to provide the customer with an easily integrated tool. This data availability can be critical during post-launch initialization and anomaly resolution, as the availability or lack of information for extended periods can be the difference between the rescue or loss of an orbiting asset. PACS uniquely leverages the existing SENS, GPS, and Globalstar infrastructure for autonomous reporting of position, velocity, spacecraft ID, and limited health and status data messages to provide the customer assured SSA in the densely populated LEO environment.

The primary objective of PACS is to provide round-the-clock state-of-health (SOH) and state-vector data, independent of ground system infrastructure and constraints. Data latency timelines (minutes) are orders of magnitude faster than those accomplished by existing ground assets (daily to weekly). Spatial resolution of the data is substantially greater than commonly used radar or UHF / VHF communications system ranging methods. PACS also provides a valuable low data rate alternative communication path to the spacecraft owner, as the successful transmission probability with link closure (>90%) far exceeds traditional ground stations.

Near-Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) uses the effects of vertically directed RF signals and ionospheric characteristics to track transmitters over long distances (hundreds of miles), without the need for overhead communication relay platforms (airborne or spacecraft). Comtech AeroAstro has pioneered unique capabilities in low power HF signaling systems using NVIS links to address sensitive and difficult RF transmission environment requirements for multiple government customers.

ComCentFig6 A specific application of this technology, developed in partnership with its AFOSR Phase I STTR partner Virginia Tech, is the development of a laboratory prototype system capability to perform multiple, synchronized, multi-tone oblique ionosphere soundings using a regularized array of low cost, low power HF transmitters and data post-processing. The data may be used to study spatial and temporal electron density structure and dynamics with fine resolution.

The JMAPS mission is a Department of the Navy space-based, all-sky astrometric bright star survey that’s scheduled for a 2013 launch. JMAPS will produce an all-sky astrometric, photometric, and spectroscopic catalog covering the magnitude range of 1–12, with extended results through 15th magnitude. The secondary mission is to perform off-points to support unique astrometry missions like quasar mapping and surveys of the GEO belt. The JMAPS space vehicle uses the Company’s Astro 200AS bus to host the JMAPS instrument over a three-year mission life. Evolved from spacecraft developed for the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program, STPSat-1 and -2, the Astro 200AS provides unparalleled stability and pointing accuracy — measured in arcseconds — for a vehicle in its size class.

ComCentFig7 Comtech AeroAstro has been a participant in JMAPS mission development since 2005, building continuously on work originally performed for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under several Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contracts. These prior risk reduction efforts, which included critical-path hardware development for the JMAPS instrument, have demonstrated that the demanding technical requirements for JMAPS spacecraft stability, agility, and total pointing accuracy can be met with a microsat-class space vehicle (<200 kg). The Company is working closely with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) to provide a proven spacecraft bus incorporating extraordinary jitter control, significant software reuse, and use of high-TRL components to enhance reliability and overall mission success.

About Comtech AeroAstro
Comtech AeroAstro, Inc. offers satellite systems, components, and advanced communications technologies. The spacecraft and components incorporate modular architectures and plug-n-play technologies in an efficient, agile, and highly responsive design and integration environment. In March of 2010, the United States Navy’s Naval Research Laboratory awarded Comtech AeroAstro, Inc. the spacecraft bus design and development contract for the Joint Milli-Arcsecond Pathfinder Survey (JMAPS) mission. The Company designs innovative payload solutions applying systems engineering expertise focused on RF and EO phenomenology, space situational awareness and low data rate communications technology.