By Rick Lober, Vice President + General Manager, Hughes DISD + MilsatMagazine Sr. Contributor
The new HM System utilizes software defined modems and advanced waveforms and coding to yield solutions to problems common to both Military and Commercial users.
These include airborne beyond line of sight (BLOS) communications for ISR applications on both fixed and rotary wing platforms, very small portable terminals, and systems that require features such as low probability of detection (LPI/LPD).
Our new HM300 portable terminal, packaged in conjunction with Tampa Microwave, utilizes advanced waveform and antenna technology to result in the world’s smallest X band portable terminal which is being used in a service offering by Airbus Defence and Space for operation on their protected Skynet satellite constellation. This is the optimum and most cost effective solution for applications such as streaming video, which require long periods of connectivity on a daily basis.
The same modem technology has been packaged by Hughes for use in airborne, shipboard and ground based COTM applications as the HM200, which features a ruggedized enclosure that meets DO-160 and MIL-810 specifications.
A unique coding appliqué can be added to the modem to assure operation through rotary wing blades without utilizing outdated techniques such as blade timing or blade burn-through (higher BUC/PA power). As with all
Hughes SATCOM products, the modem is antenna and network agnostic with configurations available for operation in the L-, Ku- or Ka-band.
The HM100 hub modem completes the network and utilizes advanced waveforms and network management techniques that enable bandwidth efficient operations using the terminals noted above over all new Ku and Ka-band high-throughput satellites, as well as WGS and existing L-band mobile satellite systems.
Hughes has also continued to invest in R&D to create very high-speed modems and the porting of protected communications waveforms to these software definable products. We are partnering with industry leaders to add crypto devices resulting in true open systems solutions for the upcoming needs of the military in this important area.
Finally, Hughes continues to support the Australian DND with the most advanced MF-TDMA systems available today and provided the SATCOM links to coalition forces in the recent Talisman Sabre exercises.
Looking ahead to 2016, Hughes will continue to enhance the HM series product line for specialized applications and will be introducing the new JUPITER™ HTS modems to the DoD for enterprise applications.
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Hughes Network Systems, LLC (Hughes) now has a full suite of aeronautical mobility features and capabilities for the company’s award-winning JUPITER™ System—service providers will be enabled to offer industry-leading throughput performance and spectral efficiency in this demanding and rapidly growing market.
Coincident with this announcement, Global Eagle Entertainment Inc. signed an agreement with Hughes to use Hughes’ JUPITER System HT Aero Modem, including the core router module and JUPITER mobility technology, to power GEE’s next-generation, high-performance broadband aeronautical service.
This newest version of Hughes’ HT Aero Modem incorporates significant technological advances that will enable GEE to deliver industry-leading aeronautical services on any Ku-band satellite, including both wide beam and HTS capacity. With the capability of the Hughes modem to support fast and seamless beam switchover, within a satellite or between satellites, users of GEE’s service will enjoy superior broadband service on a global basis.
African Extensions Via JUPITER™ System
UAE-based satellite operator Yahsat and Hughes Network Systems, LLC (Hughes) have announced the award of a major contract to Hughes to deliver its JUPITER™ System and related network operations services in support of Yahsat’s planned expansion across Africa in early 2017 with the launch of its new Ka-band satellite, Al Yah 3.
The multi-year contract calls for Hughes to supply its award-winning JUPITER System gateways and broadband terminals together with its Operating Support System (OSS) and Business Support System (BSS) solutions as a turnkey outsourced managed service. Yahsat’s position as the world’s eighth largest operator in terms of revenue will be further strengthened by the extended coverage of Al Yah 3 to wider parts of Africa.
Al Yah 3 will bring additional connectivity into 18 African countries for consumers, SOHO and enterprise segments. The procurement of the JUPITER platform is in preparation for the new satellite and is in line with Yahsat’s strategy to widen and deepen its reach and continuously enhance its product offerings.
By Rebecca M. Cowen-Hirsch, Senior Vice President For Government Strategy and Policy
This may be remembered as the year that the acquisition of satellite communications (SATCOM) took significant
Government decision-makers and commercial SATCOM providers agreed to advance these processes, realizing that modern military and humanitarian missions require a “change of the rules”. Ground, air and sea units must stand ready to go anywhere, at any time. They rely upon mobile, data-intensive applications, such as streaming video for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). In its 2014 “Satellite Communications Strategy Report,” the Department of Defense (DoD) acknowledged that it was consuming ten times more bandwidth than it did in 2001, and that a five-year plan should include a stronger commercial presence.
With this, Inmarsat began to confront what has become well established as the highly fragmented, dysfunctional procurement process. A process in which multiple DoD entities are responsible for multiple parts of the package, turning to private industry typically only “as needed” or to “fill the gaps.” Recent changes in policy and approach signaled a renewed emphasis to respond to the rapidly changing environment of operations and continuous budget constraints, hopefully leading to a new way of doing business.
This past year, the following developments offered promise for a meaningful transformation:
• In July, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) came out with the “Defense Satellite Communications” report, which recommended that the DoD conducts a spending analysis to identify SATCOM procurement inefficiencies and opportunities. It also called for the evaluation of whether greater centralization of commercial SATCOM (COMSATCOM) would benefit the DoD. Currently, a lack of awareness of what is spent on COMSATCOM and a resistance to the centralization of SATCOM acquisitions is hindering the procurement of military satellite communications (MILSATCOM), according to the GAO. Rather than continue the self-defeating argument of “fee vs. free,” considering the optimized use of commercial investments is a positive way forward.
• In the same month, General John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, issued an “Intent on (Ongoing Material) Decisions” memorandum stating that even the newest space systems “lack required resiliency and survivability. We must retool our entire space architecture to one that can be commanded through a robust common ground platform.” In addition, he called for the evaluation of all legacy satellite constellations operations for possible transfer to commercial operators and the commercial network, or to a common enterprise ground solution. “We must weigh both the impact of repurposing Airmen for mission operations and return on investment,” according to the memo. The senior leadership’s recognition of the benefits of commercial capability and the necessity of integration in such a definitive fashion is encouraging.
• In October, the DoD expanded the leadership role of Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, naming her as principal DoD space adviser (PDSA). Previously holding the title of executive agent for space (EA4S), Secretary James will seek to bring cohesion to space acquisitions, chairing the Defense Space Council (DSC) while delivering recommendations to the DSC on space issues. She will also provide independent assessments and proposals to Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work’s management action group when the DSC cannot reach a consensus on decisions. James is expected to emerge as the top advisor for space, ushering in a new era of strategic focus. Although it remains to be seen how this role will exercise its functions, the appointment of a single leader for ALL space is a significant move.
On the operational side, more rapid integration has occurred than in the policy and acquisition areas. Inmarsat and five other satellite operators are piloting the “Commercial Integration Cell” within the DoD’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC). This cell will raise the military’s awareness of how commercial satellites function, lending insights as to how we can closely coordinate to enhance DoD space operations. “We are going to have a cell of commercial space operators that will reside at the JSpOC, sit side-by-side with us, and allow us to be able to share information more easily, plan together, and … capitalize on the benefits and capabilities,” said Lt. Gen. John Raymond, at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies ( event in April.
Through these collaborations, agencies can leverage the value of industry-launched innovations such as SATCOM as a Service, which integrates complex solutions within an end-to-end managed services architecture. Via SATCOM as a Service, servicemen and women access satellite on-demand with round-the-clock availability of bandwidth, terminals, services and other features.
SATCOM as a Service positions users to reap the unique rewards of Ka-band: Optimal reliability with ubiquitous global coverage and diversity of assets; availability to transfer high-speed data without degradation; complementarity with MILSATCOM; and flexibility, which frees commanders from estimating and pre-ordering bandwidth before missions, eliminating costly (and risky) “guesses.”
In 2016, we expect this positive momentum to build. Government leaders will see that industry simultaneously pursues innovation throughout the ground, terminal and space segments, leading to robust end-to-end capability. With this functionality, systems empower users with the most flexible, immediate technologies anywhere. In addition, agencies will take comfort in knowing that they do not have to commit any upfront financial investment to benefit from industry advancements. They will discover that Inmarsat is regularly investing R&D funding and internal talent into the engineering of solutions, which are increasingly innovative and affordable.
Thus, military missions will succeed through a robust augmentation of their bandwidth/data-driven capabilities. Users may—or may not—know that a dramatic overhaul in SATCOM acquisition is helping them communicate more effectively and transmit critical video more rapidly.
Mission success will result either way.
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Bonding With EM Solutions
Inmarsat has a new partnership with EM Solutions to develop the world’s first combined MilSatCom/Global Xpress (GX) maritime SATCOM terminal.
The new terminal is scheduled to receive full Inmarsat accreditation during Q2 2016 and will be submitted for Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) certification.
The new terminal, which is initially being created for an Australian Government customer, will contain a number of innovative features, including tracking via monopulse technology and easy switching between GX and MilSatCom systems. The terminal will also be substantially lighter, lower cost and faster than any comparable MILSATCOM device.
Based on its land mobile terminal for the Ka-band, EM Solutions is also contracted to deliver a simultaneous X-/Ka-band maritime terminal for another customer, which provided the baseline reference for the new program in conjunction with Inmarsat.
EM Solutions adopted an innovative approach to the development of its satellite terminals, adopting monopulse tracking techniques that provide exceptional accuracy and stability in addition to reducing the demand on motors and other moving parts, which minimizes power, weight and operational stress.
As a specialized developer of RF components and subsystems for the Satcom industry, the new terminals will use EM Solution’s Diamond Series Ka Mulitband Block Up Converters, which use the latest in Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology and cover commercial and military Ka- frequency bands in a highly efficient, single package. This family of maritime terminals is known as the COBRA series and will be further developed for other capabilities in the
Andy Start, President, Inmarsat Global Government, said, “This announcement is a further example of Inmarsat’s strategy of responding quickly and effectively to customer demands. In this instance, the Australian Government customer was looking to increase the operational capabilities of their satellite communications within significant budget constraints and the requirement to reduce the footprint of satellite equipment on-board its new vessels.
Dr. Rowan Gilmore, CEO of EM Solutions, said, “We have been working on this product platform for a number of years and the opportunity presented itself to take a product through both Inmarsat GX certification and ultimately WGS certification to deliver a unique offering to an Australian Government customer. We believe this terminal will be the first jointly certified system to enable automatic switching between MilSatCom and Inmarsat GX satellite systems.”
Tie In With Turksat
Inmarsat and Turksat have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to explore opportunities through the formation of a strategic partnership, initially focused on the defence and aviation sectors.
Under the MoU, Inmarsat would be the preferred mobile satellite communications provider for Turksat. As an existing provider of VSAT services to the Turkish government and commercial sector, the addition of Inmarsat’s portfolio of services will significantly enhance Turksat’s offering.
Turksat’s strong links across the Caucuses and Central Asia will enable Inmarsat to increase its penetration in this region of
Rupert Pearce, CEO, Inmarsat, said, “This is an excellent opportunity for both companies to explore new opportunities. We value all of our partnerships and hope to develop a long-lasting and mutually beneficial strategic partnership with Turksat in the coming months.”
Ensar GÜL, CEO, Turksat, said, “We hope that with this MOU, Turksat and Inmarsat’s partnership program will develop a long-term fruitful cooperation. The main objective of this partnership is to broaden product and service portfolio of both companies.”
Grounding Out The Stations
Inmarsat has also completed construction of the final four satellite access stations (SAS) for its Global Xpress (GX) fleet. This represents a significant milestone in the rollout of their Ka-band network, GX, which is scheduled for global commercial service introduction early in the second half of 2015.
GX will deliver high-throughput broadband connectivity on land, at sea and in the air; provided by a single operator with seamless access anywhere in the world. The network will also offer the only worldwide commercial satellite network that is interoperable with government military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) Ka-band systems. The new GX stations are located in Lino Lakes in Minnesota, USA; Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada; with two sites near Auckland, New Zealand. Two further stations—in Fucino, Italy and Nemea, Greece—are already operational. The six GX SAS will act as gateways between the broadband traffic routed via the three Inmarsat-5 (I-5) satellites and terrestrial fixed networks. Each SAS delivers full ground segment redundancy for GX services, delivering highest quality resiliency, reliability and availability, for example at times of adverse weather, and offering a powerful differentiator to traditional regional Ku-band networks.
By Kay Sears, President
This past year, we finally saw signs that the government demand for commercial bandwidth and services is stabilizing after a steady decline resulting from reductions in U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the DoD budget challenges following sequestration.
At the same time, we were pleased to see continued acceptance of the key role that commercial satellite operators can play in supporting government operations both in the hot zones of North Africa and the Middle East and in “warm” locales such as the South China Sea between the Philippines and Vietnam. Fresh military leadership and the greater sense of urgency about maintaining U.S. superiority in space have created a climate of greater partnership between commercial operators and government customers, one Intelsat General is confident will continue into 2016.
The diminished communications needs tied to a decreased number of deployed troops are being somewhat offset by the increase in airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (AISR) requirements to cover extremist activities in Iraq, Syria and Northern Africa. Commercial capacity continues to be the workhorse for these missions as combat air patrols are routinely flown by both the Air Force and Army using various types of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).
Following a recent trip to the region, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James returned with a clear message from the combatant commanders about the need for increased ISR. Intelsat General stands ready to support this with our existing widebeam capacity and upcoming, high-throughput Intelsat EpicNG platform.
Intelsat will be launching the first of seven announced EpicNG satellites in January, the Intelsat IS-29e. This series incorporates high-performance spot beams to deliver significantly more throughput per unit of spectrum, while retaining the coverage of a traditional wide beam satellite. Unlike Inmarsat GX-GSB and other closed systems, EpicNG can deliver SATCOM data rates of up to 50 Mbps, without requiring any hardware changes to the existing antenna/modem installed RPA platforms which continue to rely on Ku-band for both C2 and ISR data transport.
The open Intelsat EpicNG architecture also allows for any-to-any beam connectivity with one-hop, unlike other HTS star-topology architectures, which demand use of an operator designated and controlled gateway. This design allows dynamic re-configuration of network topologies, providing much greater network redundancy in the event of a cyber attack. The EpicNG satellites also have enhanced interference-mitigation and anti-jamming capabilities that are critical for support of RPA operations in areas controlled by hostile adversaries.
Progress was made this past year with the Pentagon’s Pathfinder program, which seeks to define new space acquisition models that will then inform the future government space architecture and the role that commercial satellite operators will play. A number of new concepts are on the table, such as “reverse WGS,” where the military would buy a single wideband commercial satellite, but then get access to an operator’s global fleet of satellite capacity.
Such thinking will lead to new, affordable approaches for how the government acquires wideband communications capacity in the future and builds a resilient architecture.
Another development this past year was creation of the Commercial Integration Cell (CIC), established as a pilot program to improve information sharing and collaboration between DoD and commercial satellite operators. Personnel from commercial companies are assigned to sit alongside military personnel at the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) as a means of enhancing the commander’s situational awareness of the space domain and developing tactics and procedures for combined operations.
The CIC allows for collaboration to improve conjunction assessment and space object catalog maintenance; enhance rapid identification, diagnosis and resolution of RFI events; identify on-orbit anomalies; and increase overall resilience of government and commercial satellite operations. The value of the CIC was realized during a recent exercise, Global Thunder 2016.
Intelsat General’s director of operations, and the only satellite operator assigned to the CIC pilot program, Tim Turk, said, “The value of our presence inside the JSpOC cannot be overstated. Beyond the obvious value of improved satellite catalog accuracy and faster, more secure coordination and resolution of interference events, the CIC pilot has laid the groundwork for sustained, combined operations and clearly paved the way for an enduring relationship as true mission partners.”
With the primary intent of focusing critical operational resources on battle management, General John Hyten, Commander of Air Force Space Command, has directed the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to consider ways of shifting routine operational tasks such as bus operations to the commercial industry. This year, Intelsat General responded to several RFI’s that would clearly demonstrate the benefits to SMC of the company’s five decades of satellite operations experience and the resulting delivery of efficiencies.
Flying the WGS fleet of satellite buses, for example, would fit extremely well into Intelsat’s current operations process as we currently the exact same bus is flown with our own fleet. Other opportunities which are being explored for commercial off-load include single satellite missions and test satellites where the cost of standing up a separate operations center is not feasible.
SMC is also investigating how to augment the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) with commercial ground stations, thereby increasing the resiliency of that network and potentially replacing older sites with commercial teleports.
Much of the change this past year was driven by a combination of very progressive thinkers who are in key leadership roles in the Pentagon, at Air Force Space Command and in Congress. These include Doug Loverro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy; General Hyten; and Congressman Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee.
These leaders realize budget constraints require the government to be more thoughtful about space acquisition, but at the same time they understand that the space threat environment is changing rapidly. There is urgency in figuring out how to balance the increasing congested and contested threat environment with affordable solutions.
Satellites, like those in Intelsat General’s new high-throughput Intelsat EpicNG constellation, will bring higher performance and capabilities at lower cost per bit to the government communications domain. Solutions that are cost-effective can be provided, freeing government resources to invest in critical military applications that leaders like General Hyten need to implement in the evolving threat environment.
As mentioned earlier, the launch of the first Intelsat EpicNG satellites, Intelsat 29e covering the Americas and North Atlantic in January, and Intelsat 33e (scheduled for a Q3 2016 launch) covering Africa, the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions, will provide up to ten times the throughput of existing generation satellites. The higher power will enable very small AISR terminals to transmit and receive at data rates not possible with current systems. In addition, these high data rates are provided more efficiently using less satellite resources.
The U.S. government is learning how to spend its money for space more effectively, in a period of unparalleled changes to the space environment. Intelsat General and the broader commercial industry are going to be a major contributor to those solutions enabling greater throughput, resiliency and reconstitution of capabilities in a much more congested and contested space.
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MILSAT SERVICES FOR AFCENT
Intelsat General Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Intelsat (NYSE: “I”), has been awarded a contract to provide satellite services to the U.S. Air Force Central Command (AFCENT).
The one-year contract calls for 144 MHz of Ku-bandwidth to support U.S. military operations in the Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR). The service, which began in September 2015, has three one-year renewal option periods and one six-month renewal option period.
Under the previously disclosed contract, Intelsat General will provide coverage all across the Middle East as far eastward as Afghanistan and Pakistan, including reach-back to European teleport facilities.
“The deployed Airmen are operating satellite ground terminals supporting C4ISR networks at numerous remote and expeditionary locations requiring a single-satellite solution that was not readily available,” said Skot Butler, Vice-President, Satellite Networks and Space Services, Intelsat General. “With our vast global network we had the ability to re-groom capacity, creating a unique solution that precisely accommodates the customer’s single-satellite requirement.”
Sears Honored By NDIA
Earlier this year, President Kay Sears was awarded the 2014 Honorable Peter B. Teets Award, given annually by the
National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) for industry leadership in strengthening America’s national security
through space technologies.
Ms. Sears has distinguished herself as a strong and influential technology leader for more than 22 years in the satellite communications industry and has extensive experience in delivering rapid-response solutions to both military and civilian agencies of the U.S. government.
Peter Teets retired as Director of the National Reconnaissance Office in 2005 after a long and distinguished career that also included serving as Undersecretary of the Air Force and as president and chief operating officer of Lockheed Martin Corporate. Teets is credited with laying the foundation of the existing U.S. national security space enterprise and with improving the acquisition, operation, and effectiveness of national security space capabilities.
“Kay Sears truly represents the letter and spirit of the progress made by Peter Teets in seeking collaboration between government and industry on a space architecture that enhances our national security,” said Steve Spengler, President and CEO of Intelsat, parent company of Intelsat General. “Kay works tirelessly with our government partners to provide the men and women stationed around the world with the most advanced and reliable communications networks available.”
In addition to Sears, the NDIA honored Air Force General John Hyten, head of Air Force Space Command, with the Teets award in the government category.
Also earlier this year, Intelsat S.A. completed of a series of tests demonstrating the compatibility of the Intelsat EpicNG digital payload with existing ground equipment platforms. The digital payload is one of many unique design features on the company’s Intelsat EpicNG satellites, the first of which, Intelsat 29e, is scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2016.
As part of the tests, completed in cooperation with Boeing, Intelsat General Corp. successfully validated protected tactical waveform (PTW) modem performance on the Intelsat EpicNG digital payload, demonstrating our commitment to providing commercial capacity optimized for secure tactical communications. The PTW test was done to further the joint services effort, led by the United States Air Force, to develop a new PTW modem standard and hardware that will provide cost effective, protected communications over government and commercial satellites in multiple frequency bands.
By Randa Milliron, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Over the past few years, organizations such as SMDC, NASA, and DARPA took a path of including commercial space companies in the quest to create a dedicated nanosat launcher.
The now-defunct SWORDS (Soldier-Warfighter Operationally Responsive Deployer for Space) program is a prime example of unmet promise. These high-profile programs were scuttled by bad choices in propellants, in vehicle architecture, and in con-ops.
The only way to reduce the massive global traffic jam of pico- and nanosats-on-hold for launch and to provide the long-awaited paradigm shift toward a ten-fold reduction in launch-costs is to create a radically different rocket that exclusively serves the smallsat community.
Even though the government was well-intentioned, SWORDS failed to produce a low-cost, quick-launch rocket system. Two of the main reasons SWORDS did not succeed were inadequate simplification of systems and reliance on propellants that were not user-friendly enough for field use, nor sufficiently dense enough to yield a smaller-profile launcher than could be achieved with use of cryogenics.
As many of the new space companies go extinct and others enter shatter-mode, Interorbital Systems (IOS) continues the rocket research and development program at MASP, with the express intent of changing the industry with the firm’s own, SWORDS-style launcher.
NEPTUNE: The Private–Sector Prequel To “SWORDS”
Since 2005, a private sector project that at inception already read like the SWORDS program performance and promise characteristics—with the exception of propellant choice—has been in development at Interorbital’s rocket lab in the Mojave Desert of California.
In 2014, IOS achieved flight status for its main modular component (and upper stage) of its NEPTUNE modular rocket system. Interorbital announced the availability of the phase I single-module version of the ultra low-cost, rapid-response launcher that will deliver the performance characteristics originally sought by the creators of SWORDS: the IOS SR 145.
To create a vehicle that truly results in launch-on-demand performance, IOS uses storable propellants. These are a green, clean-burning combination of nitric acid and turpentine instead of using the inefficient and needy cryogenic propellants of liquid methane and liquid oxygen.
Interorbital presents a robust high-density propellant pairing that frees soldiers in the field from the duties of babysitting cryogenics and hauling along unnecessary cryogenic storage support infrastructure.
The SR 145 and its bundled orbital variants, are easy-to-use iterations of the much anticipated (but never produced) SWORDS rocket. Depending upon the configuration used, the SR 145 can cost from $350K to $2 million.
The single-module sounding rocket is designed to loft a 145 kg payload to an apogee of 310 km, providing a variety of smallsat observation/communication lift and/or strike capability based on payload size and altitude required.
For orbital missions, these CPMs can be bundled to form variants of the NEPTUNE orbital launch vehicle series, a dedicated naNosat launcher that can be configured to meet any mission requirement---including lunar orbit or impact.
IOS is engaged in licensing the rockets for both land launch and ocean-based operations. Land launch is conducted with a completely mobile
tilt-up trailer unit; ocean-based launch uses a specialized vertical tilt-up ocean deployment system. The rockets fit into a 40 ft cargo container and can be shipped—fully fueled—to the most rugged of launch zones for clean-pad deployment
Lofting Four + Commercial Launch Services Start
Fifty years ago this past November 26th, the propellant set—nitric acid and turpentine—proved its worth by successfully lofting France’s first satellite (ASTERIX), which was launched aboard a Diamant rocket, into orbit.
In the early 1970s, Lutz Kayser and OTRAG partners Wernher von Braun and Kurt Debus used nitric acid and a hydrocarbon as their propellantsb of choice.
After years of experimentation with LOx and Methanol, Interorbital followed the OTRAG and French path of using high-density storables—specifically using the French combination employing the greenest of the green propellants, turpentine.
Interorbital felt that the acid/hydrocarbon propellant combination bore another critical look as the key to enabling the dreams for a dedicated smallsat launcher that would allow for the creation and deployment of such a launcher to aid our military on the field.
IOS first flew an acid/hydrocarbon sounding rocket, the Neutrino, in 1999. Following the success of that early flight, the company selected that propellant set as the basis for the transformational rocket fleet—the family of NEPTUNE launch vehicles.
These launch vehicles are based entirely on a single building-block or module and bundled to meet every mission requirement. They are able to provide fast response, cheap enough to be expendable, and robust enough to loft tiny to heavy orbital payloads on demand—within an hour of removal from storage.
The NEPTUNE Series is totally mobile; so compact as to be transportable in a standard cargo container; cheap as dirt when compared to exiting launchers at under $350,000 for the single module sounding rocket/SR 145/ building-block for all clustered NEPTUNE launchers.
Prices for orbital missions start at well under $1 million for the 3-module (N3), for 25 kg multi-sat payloads through N5 (40 kg for $1.5 million), N9 (75 kg for $2 million) and N36 (1 metric ton to LEO/240 kg to TLI).
The NEPTUNE launch land and ocean-launch configurations are able to operate in clean pad locations with No existing infrastructure, and are deployable from an ocean-launch system that is essentially a mobile private spaceport. All these characteristics nearly meet or exceed the old SWORDS program requirements.
This main difference between the SWORDS program and NEPTUNE system is that the N-Series launchers are part of a purely commercial venture that is funded entirely by Interorbital Systems.
Interorbital launch vehicle design criteria are the direct result of the application of subtractive design combined with a minimum cost design manufacturing approach. This produces breakthrough, game-changing technology that will alter the price and launch scheduling structure of the global space launch industry.
The best way to reduce cost and failures of components and subsystems is via elimination or subtraction. In comparison with conventional rocket technology, an IOS CPM-based launch vehicle has increased reliability and reduced cost. The following are the rocket design and operational conventions that Interorbital Systems has eliminated or subtracted in order to create a more reliable, less expensive rocket:
1. No expensive and unreliable pumps to feed propellants into the combustion chambers
2. No expensive and unreliable gas turbines to drive the pumps
3. No catastrophic pump explosion at propellant depletion
4. No hold-down requirement causing Stage-1 performance loss and expensive launch pad adds
5. No expensive and unreliable regenerative cooling of the combustion chamber
6. No failure-prone electrical or pyrotechnic engine ignition
7. No limitation to fuel-rich mixture ratio due to regenerative combustion chamber cooling
8. No unreliable hydraulics
9. No low-density liquefied gas cryogenic propellants causing large tank volumes
10. No expensive and unreliable sealing, insulation, and vent valves required by cryogenics
11. No limit of fueled launcher hold-time caused by cryogenics
12. No slow fueling of cryogenics
13. No defueling need in case of launch delay
14. No need for stage-separation auxiliary propulsion
15. No limit of payload diameters allowing for the design of less expensive payloads
16. No long and slender launchers requiring expensive launch towers
17. No payload reduction by Non-optimal staging for varying mission objectives
18. No economic reason for stage-reuse caused by overly expensive engines
19. No expensive retooling for manufacture in case of changing performance requirements
20. No expensive oversize transport for large propellant tanks or stages
21. No expensive ground support for launcher assembly on pad
22. No tank pressurization during transport
Application of all of the above criteria result in the lowest-cost orbital launcher in the world.
The SWORDS concept was a good idea that should have allowed offerors to field more open solutions in terms of propellant, architecture, and con-ops choices that could have achieved the programs desired results: an ultra-low-cost launch vehicle that could be rapidly deployed by a small team; launch cost to orbit for $1 to $1.5 million with radically simplified systems for lower parts count; capable of suborbital space-altitude apogee ballistic sounding rocket operations and multiple orbital spacecraft delivery.
The program could have been presented to industry as a free-form exercise in creative problem-solving, an innovative approach that could deliver a launch vehicle with the desired performance characteristics. The program could have been presented without hard and fast rules for a propellant combo that was doomed from the start in terms of enabling ‘rapid response.’
Luckily, Interorbital continued its work on what actually is a “SWORDS”-type launch vehicle and now announces the upcoming space-altitude single–module suborbital demonstration launch (now booking) scheduled for mid-2016 and the company’s first orbital mission set for late 2016 (sold-out).
Military and Government clients are invited to join the 123 payloads already booked on Interorbital’s first five orbital launches and explore the variety of uses the agile NEPTUNE series launchers can offer for specialized warfighter applications.