COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Lockheed Martin is releasing a non-proprietary, open-source interface standard it says could enable future on-orbit satellite mission extension and augmentation.
The company announced the release of the Mission Augmentation Port interface standard Monday, which is now available for satellite designers to access online. The new standards offer an interface design that allows spacecraft to dock with one another. And because it’s open-source, it promotes greater interoperability among providers.
“Just like USB was designed to standardize computer connections, these documents are designed to standardize how spacecraft connect to each other on orbit,” Lockheed’s Senior Director of Advanced Programs Paul Pelley said in the release. “We believe it’s in the best interest of the nation for the industry to have common interface standards to provide mission agility and enterprise interoperability.”
Pelley told C4ISRNET the company has been pursuing the interface standard for several years, working to design and mature its own MAP-compliant Augmentation System Port Interface (ASPIN) before releasing the standard publicly. By the end of 2021, ASPIN had reached a technology readiness level 6, which is a common benchmark for showing a capability’s maturity.
“That’s when we said, ‘Alright, we really need to look at how can we take the parts that are important to this from an interface perspective and release them open-source to industry,” Pelley said.
Part of the company’s interest in developing the MAP standard as well as its own ASPIN adaptor was driven by the possibility of using on-orbit docking to upgrade satellite hardware on orbit in order to extend or augment its mission.
Eric Brown, Lockheed’s director for military mission strategy, said the concept is well-aligned with the Space Force’s push for more resilient, adaptable constellations with a higher technology refresh rate.
“There’s been a constant drum beat over the past few years suggesting that we need to get to a faster tech refresh rate,” Brown told C4ISRNET. “Seemingly, the one solution that was offered up in most of the public discussions was to go to a shorter-lived spacecraft and start to view space vehicles as disposable.”
While that may work for some missions, Brown said, others could benefit from the ability to swap out hardware in a way that allows the Space Force to “extend the relevance, enable tech refresh without having to field entirely new principal vehicles.”
Common standards for docking interfaces allow for the greater use of satellite docking and, Pelley said, make the vision for mission extension more achievable.
“Ultimately, our goal is to drive the development of a new ecosystem where a platform’s function can change at the pace of technology,” he said.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.