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Lockheed Martin launches first smart satellite for space mesh

Stephen Kuper

Lockheed Martin has launched a next-generation space-based computing satellite that enables space meshing for artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud networking and advanced satellite communications in a robust new software-defined architecture.

Lockheed Martin launches first smart satellite for space mesh
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The Pony Express 1 mission has a hosted payload on Tyvak-0129, a next-generation Tyvak 6U spacecraft.

Pony Express 1, an example of rapid prototyping, was developed, built and integrated in nine months, and was funded completely by Lockheed Martin Research and Development funding.

Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space, said, "Early on-orbit data show Pony Express 1 is performing its important pathfinding mission very well. Lockheed Martin's HiveStar technology on board will give our customers unparalleled speed, resiliency and flexibility for their changing mission needs by unlocking even greater processing power in space."

This orbital proving ground is validating payload hardware and software, and is packed with new technology that fits into a satellite the size of a shoebox. Some of the key technologies being flight-tested include:

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  • HiveStar software validates advanced adaptive mesh communications between satellites, shared processing capabilities and can take advantage of sensors aboard other smart satellites to customise missions in new ways previously difficult to achieve in space;
  • A software-defined radio that allows for high-bandwidth hosting of multiple RF applications, store-and-forward RF collection, data compression, digital signal processing and waveform transmission; and
  • 3D-printed wideband antenna housing developed by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Centre.

"This is the first of several rapid, self-funded experiments demonstrating our ability to systematically accelerate our customers' speed to mission while reducing risk from new technologies," Ambrose added. 

Pony Express 1 is a dual-use payload that enables mesh networks in space through HiveStar and a second function that tests space-to-ground remote sensing. Future research missions this year, like Pony Express 2, will further advance cloud networking concepts among satellites, as well as validating Lockheed Martin's SmartSat software-defined satellite architecture, which enables streamlined hosting of flexible mission apps.

This mission consists of two 12U CubeSats with faster, more capable ultra-scale processors that unlock in-orbit data analytics and artificial intelligence. Equipped with miniaturised cross-link and precision timing, Pony Express 2 is a trailblazer for autonomous teaming in space and true cloud networking.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 105,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Irvine, California, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems is an industry leader, delivering optimised, end-to-end nano- and microsatellite solutions.

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