US: SSL, a unit of Maxar Technologies (formerly MacDonald, Dettwiler, and Associates.) has announced that it has partnered with a team at NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Michigan (UM) selected by the agency to conduct a Phase A mission study under NASA’s Explorers Program. SSL’s role in the mission, called the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE), is to provide a ride beyond geosynchronous orbit (GEO) for a constellation of science-gathering small satellites. SSL will use its Payload Orbital Delivery System (PODS) technology to dispense the small satellites on-orbit as free-flyers.
Mission Principal Investigator Justin Kasper, Associate Professor in the University of Michigan’s Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering Department, will lead the SunRISE team that will use the small satellite constellation, operating as a synthetic aperture radio telescope, to address the critical heliophysics problems of how solar energetic particles are accelerated and released into interplanetary space. Heliophysics is the study of how the Sun affects the environment of the Solar System.
“Using the PODS system for our launch gives us the ability to deploy our constellation of small satellites beyond GEO for a fraction of the cost of a dedicated launch, enabling mission implementations that would not have been possible just years ago,” said Justin Kasper, mission principal investigator and associate professor, University of Michigan. “We are pleased that SSL is part of our mission study team, bringing the benefits of the commercial satellite industry to scientific research.”
“The Payload Orbital Delivery System was developed as an innovative solution for small satellites that need to reach GEO and beyond,” said Richard White, president of SSL Government Systems. “It’s a privilege to team with JPL and the University of Michigan on a mission that will benefit from our regular cadence of large communications satellite launches that often have room for hosted payloads and small rideshare payloads. The PODS system helps to provide flight opportunities for cost-capped missions that wouldn’t otherwise be feasible.”
By sharing a ride to space on an SSL-built satellite with PODS, the SunRISE mission benefits from the frequency of commercial launch schedules and a significantly reduced launch cost compared to a dedicated mission. SSL developed PODS in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, with the expectation that it will play a key role in enabling cost-effective, high tempo access to space for small payloads on a wide variety of important commercial, government, and scientific missions beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).
NASA is also leveraging SSL’s commercial capabilities and experience to help reduce cost on a variety of next-generation missions that enable groundbreaking robotics and automation technologies. These include a NASA Discovery Mission to explore the asteroid Psyche, the Restore-L mission to service satellites in LEO, and the Dragonfly program, which will demonstrate robotic satellite assembly on-orbit.