Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) has revealed a new line of high-performance, low-cost cubesat buses — these are the 3U (“THUNDER”), 6U (“SPARTAN”) and 12U/16U (“JAEGER”) cubesats, which complement SFL’s legacy suite of space-heritage smallsats, fulfilling mission size requirements from 3 to 500 kg.
SFL will discuss its new cubesats and legacy buses at the virtual Small Satellite Conference (SmallSat 2020) that is being held online Aug. 1-6, 2020.
SFL was among the first in the world to launch cubesats that included the CanX-1 CubeSat in 2003 and CanX-2 in 2008, with capabilities that exceeded the state-of-the-art at that time. Since then, SFL has focused on somewhat larger, more capable satellites for more challenging missions, garnering a reputation for “quality at low cost.” As SFL delivered high-performance, high-quality smallsats for more than two decades, the cubesat market matured and the number of commercial opportunities increased.
The new product line of high performance CubeSats leverages SFL’s quality platform technologies while addressing the need for aggressive, disruptive missions and satellites that are as small as possible to meet highly constrained business demands. This represents a return to cubesats for SFL but with the ability to leverage more than 22 years of experience and technological advancements.
Bringing to bear the accumulated power of SFL know-how and technologies will satisfy the now mature demand for platforms that perform well and are compatible with commercial-off-the-shelf cubesat deployers and aggregated launches.
With demonstration and operational programs in mind, SFL has also announced Newspace (accelerated) and Microspace (standard) development options for the new cubesat line. The accelerated procedures are designed to move demonstration satellites quickly through the development process and into orbit for short-term proof-of-concept performance.
They can also be used operationally in scenarios where rapid replenishment is planned. Microspace, or SFL’s standard development approach, which has been perfected at SFL for more than two decades, ensures the reliability of operational spacecraft built for long-duration missions in orbit.
SFL satellites have achieved more than 121 cumulative years of operation in orbit. These microspace missions have included SFL’s trusted attitude control and, in some cases, formation-flying capabilities. Other core SFL-developed components include modular (scalable) power systems, onboard radios, flight computers, and control software.
The new SFL cubesats will be ideal for NewSpace programs that are intended to either disrupt commercial markets or operate from a long-term rapid replenishment strategy. The industry-accepted form factors of cubesats make them attractive for proof-of-concept programs or programs that involve repetitive quick replenishment where cost constraints are critical. They fit the cost models of some businesses because they are built for orbital deployment from, and aggregation of relatively inexpensive, standardized dispensers being mass produced on the market today.
SFL’s heritage of on-orbit successes includes missions related to Earth Observation (EO), atmospheric monitoring, ship tracking and communication, radio frequency signal geolocation, technology demonstration, space astronomy, solar physics, space plasma, and other scientific research.
At SmallSat 2020, SFL will present a paper on “Guidance, Navigation, and Control for Agile Small Spacecraft with Articulating Solar Arrays” during (cubesat) Workshop, Session I: Advanced Concepts I (Session Q&A Webinar, Noon to 1pm MDT, Tuesday August 4). SFL will also host live Zoom sessions to answer questions from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., MDT, on August 3, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., MDT, on August 4-5, and 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., MDT, on August 6.
The SFL SmallSat 2020 Zoom link is
“SFL can accommodate the budget and performance objectives of any microspace mission,” said SFL Director Dr. Robert E. Zee. “And we are positioned to meet the evolving spacecraft development and business model requirements of different organizations – from disruptive demonstration missions to fully operational constellations. The new line of high-performance cubesats will allow us to offer something for everyone, from market disruption to long-term operational stability. The spectrum of SFL platform offerings will enable staged roadmaps to larger missions for some customers. Having platforms that cover the full range of capability will make transitioning and forward compatibility easier for our most demanding clients.”
Zee continued, “Every satellite we build – whether CubeSat, nanosat, or microsat – incorporates the same flight heritage, avionics, and attitude control that we have developed and refined after developing 52 distinct satellites – either launched or launching soon – the Microspace Way,” said Zee. “Regardless of the demands of the mission, we use the same generic core and scale the platform as necessary to meet specific mission objectives. Once a demonstration CubeSat is launched and successfully commissioned, SFL is able to trigger mass production for rapid deployment and replenishment or leverage the success to take our client’s business model to the next step. This may involve transitioning to longer lifetime CubeSats and/or our legacy microspace platforms which can be done with relative ease.”