Satlets: Crazy Idea or Ingenious Concept? This Week’s Test on ISS Will Offer Clues

On Oct. 25, astronauts onboard the International Space Station planned to link NovaWurks’ spacecraft building blocks in the first on-orbit test of a radically new approach to satellite design and manufacturing.

Instead of fitting spacecraft components into a rectangular bus as companies have for decades, NovaWurks invented Hyper-Integrated Satlets (HISats), identical seven-kilogram modules with everything a satellite needs to function, including communications, pointing, power, data processing and propulsion.

Satellite builders can mate any number of HISats, which measure 20 by 20 by 10 centimeters and snap together like Legos, to their payloads on Earth or in orbit. Software determines the role each HISat should play. If one HISat subsystem begins to fail, for example, the same subsystem on other HISats can help.

It’s an approach Talbot Jaeger, founder and chief technologist of Los Alamitos, California-based Novawurks, came up with while contemplating the wonders of biological stem cells. “The architecture comes alive as it starts to grow, Jaeger told SpaceNews. “It creates an organism you can’t defeat.”

After years of development and ground testing plus two years of storage on ISS, NovaWurks engineers and their partners are waiting for the first on-orbit demonstration of their technology. If all went as planned, on Oct. 25 astronauts will assemble a small satellite by snapping together six HISats and two deployable solar arrays built by Pumpkin with an electro-optical imager in a NASA-sponsored mission called Satlet Initial Proofs and Lessons (SIMPL).

Then astronauts plan to launch the newly assembled small satellite from ISS on Oct. 27 using the NanoRacks Kaber Microsatellite Deployer, providing a key test of how well the HISats function as a single unit.

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