Featured Image Source: Momentus Vigoride
Students at the University of Southern California (USC) are collaborating with Lockheed Martin on a small satellite development program. USC’s Information Sciences Institute students will build four CubeSats as part of Lockheed Martin’s SmartSat software project. USC's called the project La Jument, which aims to enhance Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning space technologies. The university selected Momentus as their launch mission manager, the company offers shuttle services in space for satellites.
Momentus booked a flight aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch the four CubeSats over the next two years, under SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare program. The program offers companies and universities with a smaller budget, the option to launch a small payload to orbit for a lower price by sharing the rocket with a larger payload. “We are excited to continue our work with Momentus to offer small satellite operators reliable and cost-efficient rides to space,” SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales Tom Ochinero said in a statement released by Momentus.
“In the past, SmallSat operators had to squeeze in alongside larger, more expensive equipment that would dictate the launch schedule,” Momentus representatives wrote, “By augmenting SpaceX’s innovative ridesharing program, Momentus is saving time and money for SmallSat operators to reach a given destination orbit […] opening up space for a new era.”
“By augmenting SpaceX’s innovative ridesharing program, Momentus is saving time and money for SmallSat operators to reach a given destination orbit […] opening up space for a new era.”
The first 3U CubeSat is scheduled to launch in February 2021. The CubeSat will ride aboard a Momentus ‘shuttle’ spacecraft called Vigoride (pictured above). SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will deploy Vigoride to a Sun Synchronous orbit at an altitude of around 550-kilometers. Vigoride will then give the CubeSat(s) a ride to its operational orbit; It will ignite its propulsion system to transport it further into specific orbits between 300 to 2,000 kilometers beyond its drop off point.
The first CubeSat USC students will develop will be a remote sensing satellite. The students will utilize Lockheed Martin’s SmartSat development kit to develop their own application for the satellite. They will equip it with autonomous capabilities using Artificial Intelligence technology to gain real-world experience. “La Jument and SmartSat are pushing new boundaries of what is possible in space when you adopt an open software architecture that lets you change missions on the fly,” said Adam Johnson, Director of SmartSat and La Jument at Lockheed Martin. “We are excited to release a SmartSat software development kit to encourage developers to write their own third-party mission apps and offer an orbital test-bed.”
The other three CubeSats USC students will develop will feature different applications. The second mission will be a smaller 1.5U CubeSat to test communication links. The other two, are larger 6U CubeSats, which will be designed to launch until 2022.