Resiliency and the Need for Speed

Resiliency and the Need for Speed

Apr 3, 2018


From Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, California, the dialogue surrounding the topic of resiliency typically includes words like “redundancy,” “flexibility,” “agility,” and “disruptive change.” While these all represent very complex and distinct concepts, there is an essential—and highly important—common denominator: speed.

The importance of speed was reinforced in a speech delivered by General John Hyten, USSTRATCOM commander, at the 2017 Space and Missile Defense Symposium. “The vast reaches of space are becoming increasingly crowded and dangerous,” stated Hyten. “That’s where our adversaries are going, and we need to get ahead of their efforts. But we’re falling behind, and I know why. Because we forgot, somehow, how to move fast in this country. In both space and missile defense, we need to get back to the basics of speed and innovation.”

It is this sense of urgency—this need for speed—that is driving Harris and others in industry and government to think creatively in order to bring to our warfighters new and resilient intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities more quickly. And as a result, next-generation space capabilities are looking very different than they did even five years ago.


Are the days of large, expensive exquisite satellite missions over? “Waning” is the more likely trend as government continues to find value in piggybacking missions onto those of commercial satellite owners. The win-win nature of hosted payloads for both groups led to formation of the Hosted Payload Alliance (HPA) in 2011 and its charter to help further this relationship. 

Hosting government payloads on commercial vehicles not only offers the obvious advantage of lower costs—building and launching a satellite costs significantly more than placing a payload on an existing satellite—but also can speed up the process of getting missions into space. According to HPA, “a hosted payload on a commercial satellite can reach space in a fraction of the time that it would take to develop a free flyer program. Roughly 20 commercial satellites are launched to GEO orbit each year, and each one presents an opportunity to add on additional capability.” 

Speed means more missions with updated technology get into space faster and enables a more resilient architecture. Assets distributed over multiple platforms make things much more challenging for adversaries. 

At Harris, we’ve taken this concept one step further by creating a hosted payload architecture, Harris AppSTAR™, that supports multiple missions in a single hosted payload. Some call these hosted-hosted payloads. Using software-defined radio technology, Harris AppSTAR™ enables missions to be altered, technology updated, and new missions added while on orbit—the flexibility desired to facilitate resiliency. Today Harris is successfully running and operating multiple diverse missions using this capability, demonstrating its revolutionary viability in the resiliency toolkit.


In an interview with SpaceNews, Major General Nina Armagno, USSTRATCOM’s director of plans and policy, shared her organization’s vision for a resilient space enterprise. “We think what it looks like is smaller satellites, that are three- to five-year design life, that can be acquired more quickly, can be technologically refreshed more quickly and then launched on tactical timelines.” The challenge is how to get adequate capabilities into those small form factors. At Harris, we are approaching this from several angles.

Payload- or mission-driven satellite design. The first satellite, Sputnik I, was the size of a beach ball and weighed in at 184 pounds. In the 60 years that have followed Sputnik’s 98-minute orbit around the earth, satellite buses have grown into standardized product lines and sizes weighing as much as an adult rhinoceros. Today’s smallsats provide an opportunity to rethink that approach and provide greater flexibility to mission owners with satellite vehicles built around the payload or mission rather than force-fitting them into available buses. Such customization does not necessarily have to be more costly.

Manufacturing for low size, weight, and power (SWaP). Among the primary limiting factors in replacing conventional satellites with smaller ones have been the latter’s limitations in SWaP and storage capacity and the ability to transmit and receive information from them. Smallsats are prompting us to push the boundaries of manufacturing technologies to deliver low-SWaP payloads. 

For example, Harris is developing mesh space antenna reflectors that fit into small launch envelopes with new designs and 3D printing processes that achieve up to 50 percent mass reduction—without degrading the structure’s expected strength, performance, or durability. We have patented composite materials for optics that are 25 percent lighter than conventional ones, and equally important, have developed manufacturing processes that enable us to reduce the delivery time for optics by 90 percent. 

Putting proven technologies to work. Through research and development, we are adapting proven Harris technologies, like our Harris AppSTAR™ hosted payload architecture and our legacy satellite imaging systems, to serve smallsat needs. Our reconfigurable software-defined payload facilitates the transfer of RF signals between the ground and the smallsat. Our 1-meter imaging solutions enable smallsats to collect high-detail data for a variety of applications.        


While the move away from traditional long-duration, exquisite systems toward fast turnaround, small form-factor constellations or multimission solutions furthers the goal of greater resiliency in important ways, there is risk that it could also result in the ground system “stovepipes” that are at odds with the government’s vision of a single space enterprise. 

For as long as Harris has developed spaceborne hardware, we have also built state-of-the-art ground systems. This experience has taught us that future ground systems for the nation’s space superiority mission must have built-in commonalities that present opportunities for cost efficiencies, enable the rapid insertion of new technologies as they become available, and can be scaled to accommodate the addition of new or changing missions. And while future ground systems do not need to be identical—each mission can be expected to have unique requirements—the right approach will enable ground systems to play an essential role in the race toward tomorrow’s resilient space enterprise. 

Rob Mitrevski is vice president and general manager of Harris’ Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) business unit. Harris is applying new ideas and perspectives to develop game-changing technological breakthroughs for ISR solutions that are more affordable and have lower size, weight, and power requirements.

Click here to view our entire publication on Charting a Course to Resiliency in Space.