SPT blog

Innovation Drives Our Newest Reflector Design

May 27, 2020

President Kennedy delivered one of his most famous speeches about the future of space at Rice University in 1962. His message resonated far beyond the 40,000 people listening in person. That afternoon, he inspired an entire nation to lead the space race.

“If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man and his quest for knowledge and progress is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not. And it is one of the great adventures of all time. And no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.”

As our nation strengthens its space strategy via the U.S. Space Force, President Kennedy’s message still rings true today. A constant inquisitive attitude toward science and engineering is paramount in our ability to achieve space superiority and to solve our customers’ toughest challenges.

I’m a big believer in innovation. Our innovation connects, protects and supports people everywhere. No matter whether we are supporting military missions, government agencies or commercial customers, our ability to innovate is what enables us to help keep our nation safe and to remain relevant as customer needs change with shifts in the market.

Innovation is the reason we’re able to move the space industry forward with next-generation space reflector designs like our Smallsat Perimeter Truss (SPT) Reflector. This newest reflector and its predecessor, the Perimeter Truss Reflector, came to market thanks to innovative ideas supported by our industry-leading internal research and development (IRAD).

IRAD investments enable our team to advance designs with real technological discriminators that set our reflectors apart from the competition. Building upon the prequalified Perimeter Truss Reflector, our team developed the SPT Reflector to help keep pace with the changing satellite market.

Fueled by the need to get into space quickly with adaptable solutions that accommodate mission changes, we’re seeing the emergence of modern flexible satellites (flexsats). Flexsats are faster to build and are reconfigurable on orbit. Our high-gain SPT Reflector is compatible with reconfigurable beams and dynamic bandwidth allocation common on flexsats.

SPT Flexsat

The SPT Reflector is offered in diameters up to 4 meters and stows to roughly one-third the size and 50 percent of the weight of our heritage designs.

Similar to the SPT, our Perimeter Truss Reflector is highly accurate and highly compactable, offering up to 50 percent lower mass than heritage designs and still expands to 22 meters in diameter. The reflector offers up to 30 percent shorter stowed height than competitive designs.

These two reflectors complement an additional next-generation design introduced in 2018 called our High Compaction Ratio (HCR) antenna. HCR is the product of our Innovation Office, which I helped found in order to future-proof our business.

The HCR came to fruition through the Office’s twice-yearly call for engineering ideas. As demand for small satellites (smallsats) started to increase, one of our engineers saw the need for a reflector that could support the growing smallsat market. He pitched an idea for a new reflector, received funding and formed a team to develop what came to be the HCR antenna. HCR was our first smallsat-optimized reflector that achieves high communication gain typically available only from systems on larger satellites.

Encouraging innovation and ideation at every level of the organization has enabled us to go after new markets and provide customers with an expanded portfolio of space reflectors to meet changing mission needs. With the addition of the SPT Reflector, we now have large diameter reflectors compatible with every major spacecraft, from small Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) class, to mid-sized flexible satellites, up to large classical geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) satellites.

SPT ESPA

L3Harris has successfully created a culture of innovation that drives concepts forward from basic ideas to transformational military and commercial capabilities. The future belongs to those who are able to enroll vast and diverse teams toward achieving significant endeavors, and that begins and ends with innovation.