Achieving Responsive Space: The Viability of Plug-and-Play in Spacecraft Development


The emerging acceptance of responsive space as a means of allowing space-based
assets to be fully functioning elements within the warfighter’s arsenal has brought to light aspects of traditional spacecraft development that will require extensive modification if they are to meet the needs of the next generation spacecraft. Quick integration and launch of spacecraft has been identified as a means of achieving responsive space; and a key element to rapid integration may be the application of enhanced plug-and-play (PnP) standards to spacecraft components. Whether those components are partitioned as spacecraft and payload, spacecraft functional subsystems in conjunction with the payload, or individual spacecraft hardware components, the application of PnP will result in a paradigm shift with respect to traditional spacecraft development methodologies.
Microcosm, in conjunction with HRP Systems, under several SBIRs from AFRL/VSSE, has developed a rapid prototype implementation of PnP components focused on a guidance, navigation, and control (GN&C) application. One objective was to create a self-configuring network, including resource discovery, configuration, and management, in addition to providing system level configuration and graceful degradation based on the plugged-in, available components. This objective was to be achieved using GN&C applications which are typically highly deterministic and time dependent, as a challenging proof-of concept. A two-state GN&C application was implemented in software to provide control laws that reflect a low fidelity solution and a higher fidelity solution based on component availability and measurement quality.
This paper will discuss PnP as a disruptive technology, especially when applied to a GN&C system implementation. In addition, an overview of prototypical implementations, developed by Microcosm and HRP Systems as part of several AFRL funded SBIR efforts, will be presented to provide a foundation for our vision of the future. This prototype work will be discussed in generic terms, specifically for the purpose of establishing a basis of knowledge for the concept extension that will be advocated later in the paper. Finally, the paper will provide a recommendation of PnP concepts that can be overlaid on the spacecraft development process, specifically in terms of GN&C, to make responsive space attainable in the near term.

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Graven, P., R. Van Allen, L.J. Hansen and J.M. Pollack. 29th Annual AAS Guidance and Control Conference, Breckenridge, CO. February 4–8, 2006.