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Launch Systems | Space Systems | Mission Engineering

Mission Engineering

As we define it, mission (and systems) engineering is the process that takes a set of broad objectives and constraints and then proceeds to define an affordable space system to meet them. SSD can support the entire space mission analysis and design process. and can also provide support in more specific areas such as:


  • Constellation design and management
  • Orbit design and selection
  • Spacecraft bus conceptual design
  • Ground system conceptual design
  • Launch vehicle selection and spacecraft/launch vehicle integration
  • Concept of operation development
  • Space mission cost modeling
  • Cost and Risk reduction studies


Microcosm has extensive experience in supporting GPS mission and system engineering activities, including a current Phase I SBIR contract with the U.S. Air Force entitled “Flexible, Expandable Architecture for Next Generation GPS.” In the current program, Microcosm proposes a new GPS architecture that is both flexible and expandable to be able to adapt to advancing technology and changing needs, such as the need to work in the presence of man-made interference, challenging terrain, or urban canyons. Combining the potential for extensive on-board and user-equipment processing, asymmetric coverage, spot beams for local signal enhancement, and the intelligent use of external information (as done with smartphones), the system can provide:

  • Substantial reduction in sustainment cost
  • Enhanced signal security
  • Greater robustness
  • Reduced time to first fix (TTFF)
  • Enhanced accuracy
  • Enhanced performance in “urban canyons”
  • Reduced jammer susceptibility

In addition, the system can be easily modified or expanded to meet evolving needs and capabilities. Phase I will quantify the expected cost and performance and create an implementation plan for creating “GPS for the 21st century.”

3 years prior to the first GPS Block IIR satellite being launched, Microcosm carried out a study for the GPS program office at Los Angeles Air Force Base called “GPS Utility Analysis and System Acquisition Inputs.

The scope of this activity included a review of the GPS system specification, acquisition plan, and mission objectives with the principal goal of determining how to achieve substantial cost reductions in the acquisition of the GPS follow-on. The principal conclusion of that study was that the goal of the GPS system should be to deliver an appropriate navigation signal at the surface of the Earth with the specified availability, integrity, and survivability at the lowest possible cost. Changes in the system are possible that should permit significantly reduced annual cost.

Microcosm continues to pursue options for creating a more reliable, lower cost GPS system architecture that will serve the evolving needs of the warfighter well into the 21st century.

Orbits and Coverage

Calculating the orbit of a spacecraft is often computationally complex, but conceptually simple— what is the path of the spacecraft through space? The more complex part is choosing the orbit that we want to use for the spacecraft or constellation. The process involves a number of considerations— such as launch, performance, coverage, and the environment— that have a major impact on mission cost and performance. Microcosm has proposed orbits that provide much better coverage than the typical Sun synchronous orbit,(1) orbits that eliminate the growing problem of orbital debris, (2) and has literally written the book on orbit and constellation design.(3) We would be pleased to work with you on ways to select orbits for your mission that provide the highest utility at the lowest cost

1 Wertz, J. R., Microcosm Inc., “Coverage, Responsiveness, and Accessibility for Various ‘Responsive Orbits’,” 3rd AIAA Responsive Space Conference, Los Angeles, CA. Apr. 25–28, 2005.

2 Wertz, J.R., N. Sarzi-Amade, A. Shao, C. Taylor, and R. Van Allen, Microcosm Inc., “Moderately Elliptical Very Low Orbits (MEVLOs) as a Long-Term Solution to Orbital Debris,” AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites Logan, UT. Aug. 13–16, 2012.

3 Wertz, James R., Hans Meissinger, Lauri K. Newman, Geoffrey N. Smit, Mission Geometry: Orbit and Constellation Design and Management, Microcosm Press, Segundo, CA 2001, 934 p.

SmallSat Missions: Debris Monitoring, CubeSat Delivery, Frequent Revisit Missions

NanoEye and its several variants, including SpaceHawk, MicroEye (Fig. 1), and the CubeSat Delivery Vehicle (CDV) shown in Fig. 2, support a wide range of military and commercial missions. All of these vehicles have several km/sec of maneuvering delta-V that enable significant orbit agility far beyond the capabilities of any typical COTS spacecraft of comparable mass. Further, all of the spacecraft incorporate Microcosm’s all-composite unibody structure with mostly space-qualified CubeSat bus components. In addition, NanoEye, SpaceHawk, and MicroEye all have rapid scanning capability, again far in excess of any known spacecraft, that enable on the order of 1,000 images to be taken during a single pass, with no target optimization required. Finally, all versions of the spacecraft utilize Autonomous Orbit Control (AOC) that enables precision advance mission planning, of particular importance for all but the CDV when constellations are involved because there is no need for ground control of the orbit of each spacecraft.

A preliminary design associated with a variant that has a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payload has been completed. In addition, evaluations have been completed that would support a LIDAR payload. Whereas the benefit of low altitude operations is 1:1 for passive payloads (still quite a good impact), for active payloads the benefit varies approximately between ~1:R3 and ~1:R4, which represents a huge advantage relative to the being able to reduce mass, volume, and especially power for the host satellite. Regarding passive payloads, if 1 m optics is required at 800 km, only 0.25 m optics would be required at 200 km. For an active payload that requires 2,560 watts at 800 km altitude, only 40 watts (1:R3) or 10 watts (1:R4) would be required at 200 km altitude. Combining an electro-optical (EO) and infrared (IR) payload on one spacecraft with a SAR payload on a spacecraft flying in tandem with the EO/IR spacecraft will provide day/night/all weather surveillance capability.

The original NanoEye spacecraft was developed to support tactical surveillance for the Army and incorporates EO and IR sensors that enable day and night imaging. SpaceHawk is capable of detecting and tracking hypersonic vehicles utilizing a larger aperture telescope than the telescope in NanoEye. MicroEye looks similar to the SpaceHawk vehicle, and currently incorporates the same telescope used in the NanoEye spacecraft, but focuses on debris tracking and space situational awareness (SSA) missions. The CDV can deliver up to 12 3U or 6U CubeSats to various orbits.

There is one other factor that Microcosm leverages in terms of broadening the missions that its spacecraft can support, namely repeat coverage orbits. Rather than place spacecraft in sun-synchronous orbits that provide coverage of some area of interest every 2-3 days, repeat coverage orbits involve placing the spacecraft at inclinations several degrees above the latitude of interest. The result is one spacecraft will pass over the area of interest every 90 minutes 5-6 times per day, so that three spacecraft in three planes 120 degrees apart will cover the area of interest every 90 minutes 24/7.

Microcosm has analyzed missions that can be supported by NanoEye and its variants. They are listed as follows: (as indicated, some missions are dual military/non-military)

  • Military
    • Persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance – tactical data gathering
    • Space Superiority
      • Space Situational Awareness
        • Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO)
          • GEO Space Fence – Monitoring all of GEO
          • Elliptical orbits for regional protection
        • Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Space Fence
    • Missile/aircraft tracking
    • Global Positioning System augmentation (LEO constellation)
    • Communications
    • Detection of Weapons of Mass Destruction
    • Weather related – Cloud Monitoring, Wind LIDAR (precision weapon targeting)
    • Tech Demos
  • Non-military
    • Global Positioning System augmentation (LEO constellation)
    • Communications
    • Weather related – cloud/general weather monitoring, wind LIDAR (hurricane monitoring), iceberg tracking
    • Search and rescue
    • Agricultural monitoring
    • Oil field monitoring
    • Interplanetary
    • Tech demos

Sensors evaluated associated with the missions listed above are as follows:

  • Sensors Evaluated
    • Passive
      • Electro-optical (EO)
      • Infrared (IR)
    • Multi-spectral
    • Hyperspectral
    • Fabry-Perot Interferometer
  • Active
    • Synthetic aperture radar
    • LIDAR

The government has funded independent simulations of constellations incorporating Microcosm’s NanoEye bus and EO, EO/IR and SAR payloads. The results demonstrated significant contributions from its low-cost constellations. The results can be provided upon request to those with the appropriate security accesses.