1. Business
  2. Space industry
March 20, 2019updated 21 Mar 2019 10:24am

Lockheed Martin unveils smart satellites that can change mission after launch

By Luke Christou

Lockheed Martin has unveiled next-generation space technology that will allow satellites to change their mission after entering orbit.

Using current technology, it is difficult to alter a satellite’s capability after it has been launched. However, the aerspace, defence and security company’s new technology, named SmartSat, will allow satellites to be reprogrammed while in orbit, allowing satellite operators to add new capabilities and assign new missions simply by pushing out new software.

Lockheed Martin will begin integrating SmartSat technology with its nanosatellites from this year, with 10 launches of rapid-prototype, testbed satellites scheduled for research and development purposes.

The company hopes to begin integrating SmartSat into its new series of LM50 nanosatellite buses later this year.

“We’re self-funding these missions to demonstrate a number of new capabilities that can plug into any satellite in our fleet, from the LM 50 nanosat to our flagship LM 2100,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space.

Smartphone apps for satellites

The company likens the capability of it new technology to installing apps on a smartphone.

“Imagine a new type of satellite that acts more like a smartphone. Add a SmartSat app to your satellite in-orbit, and you’ve changed the mission,” Ambrose said.

The technology will make it quick and easy to redeploy satellites, providing operators with more flexibility to alter their missions.

“SmartSat will give our customers unparalleled resiliency and flexibility for changing mission needs and technology, and it unlocked even greater processing power in space,” Ambrose said.

“It will one day connect directly with planes, ships and ground vehicles, connecting front-line users to the power of space like never before.”

Improving cybersecurity

Concerns are frequently raised that outdated satellites could offer an easy target for cyber attackers to exploit. Given that satellites are the backbone of our communication infrastructure, as well as GPS tracking, television networks and plenty more, satellites would make an appealing target for many attackers.

Beyond altering missions, this technology can also help to improve cybersecurity in space.

Using SmartSat technology, operators will be regularly update the satellite’s on-board defence system to defend against new threats, providing a faster way of detecting, diagnosing and fixing errors and vulnerabilities.

Read more: Additive manufacturing in space: How NASA’s 3D printing could transform spacecraft building