tech track papers

Categories: 2018, Small Satellites

Survivability Analysis of a Small Satellite Constellation

Spacecraft are normally designed to survive the numerous natural hazards inherent to spaceflight. Rarely does this process expand to cover defense against human threats. This paper presents a survivability assessment of a generic small satellite constellation and recommends design changes and tactics that will optimize defense while maximizing the preservation of capability.

Traditional satellites possess unique cost and operational vulnerabilities. They are fragile – built with the minimum strength necessary to survive launch forces. A typical reconnaissance spacecraft will take five years to build, and cost at least $300M. Once built, a spacecraft will typically wait a year or more for a $100M launch opportunity. And once on-orbit, the spacecraft is easily identifiable by ground-based observers, making it susceptible to attack. A single weapons launch would be sufficient to destroy the spacecraft. Subsequent replacement is always expensive and never expedient.

These weaknesses can be mitigated, if not eliminated, by moving from a traditional satellite to a small satellite platform. A constellation of SmallSats can provide comparable capability at one-tenth the price. In addition to providing a lower platform cost, they can be launched with smaller rockets or as secondary payloads. The sheer multiplicity of such constellations assures increased survivability of strategic capabilities. Directly addressing survivability issues in the development process, including both specific design enhancements and careful orbital selection, could minimize the risk to the network, making these constellations exponentially more challenging and costly to destroy, while providing similar capability to the assets they replace.

This paper will assess the survivability of a SmallSat constellation intended to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. It will explore the current threats to satellite operations, and the SmallSat’s susceptibility and vulnerability to them. Finally, it will provide recommendations as to how to reduce both factors thus increasing asset survivability and decreasing replacement time.


Author: Edward A.S. Hanlon
Topic: Small Satellites

  • Paper: Survivability Analysis of a Small Satellite Constellation

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