SDL makes new small satellite for DoD, Air Force

May 29, 2017 | HJNews

NASA - On May 17, the Air Force Research Laboratory successfully deployed its Satellite for High Accuracy Radar Calibration — or SHARC — into a low-Earth orbit from the International Space Station. Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory developed the satellite's flight software, radio interface circuit board, and provided fabrication and assembly expertise for its main subsystems.

USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory has developed and manufactured a small satellite that will play a role in the calibration of ground-based radar systems for the Department of Defense and demonstrate technologies for the Air Force.

SDL was involved in the making of the Satellite for High Accuracy Radar Calibration, or SHARC, stated the USU Research Foundation, the umbrella organization over SDL, in a news release.

Ian Karlinsey, an SDL software engineer, explained that ground-based radar systems used by the DoD can detect objects in the sky and accurately locate them.

“If (ground-based radar systems are) not calibrated, then they can’t accurately tell where (objects in the sky) are,” Karlinsey said. “By calibrating them, they become more accurate.”

According to Eva Blaylock, a public affairs specialist with the Air Force, the DoD has a “series of radar sites around the world that are used for various purposes including tracking of rocket launches at the various U.S. launch sites.”

In addition to calibration of ground-based radar systems, SHARC will also demonstrate small-satellite technology developed by the Air Force, Blaylock wrote.

SHARC was developed under the direction of the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Blaylock said AFRL and its Small Satellite Portfolio have a longstanding relationship with SDL.

“SDL is one of the pioneers and leaders in the small-satellite community in the U.S., so there is a logical connection between SSP and SDL,” Blaylock wrote in an email to The Herald Journal. “SDL has employees on-site at SSP in Albuquerque as well as in Logan, that are part of the team that helped make SHARC a reality.”

NASA - The nanoRacks CubeSat Deployer "ejects" the Spacecraft for High Accuracy radar Calibration microsatellite, developed at SDL, into orbit from the International Space Station.

SDL developed the flight software that monitors and controls all aspects of SHARC and the ground system software used to communicate with the satellite.

“The flight software is really the brains of the satellite; it motions and controls all aspects of the satellite, including the communication and navigation,” Karlinsey said. “SDL wrote that software from the ground up just for this mission.”

SDL supported spacecraft integration and test activities at AFRL and characterized the performance of the solar array that provides power to the SHARC spacecraft in SDL’s Nanosat Operation Verification and Test Facility.

Karlinsey has high hopes for SHARC.

“I hope that it is successful in the actual calibration of the radars, and I hope the Air Force Research sees the value in that,” he said. “I want to have us do additional work for them.”

Karlinsey added, “I can’t take credit for the project, of course — there’s a lot of dedicated people at SDL that worked on the project, but it is really a rewarding thing to see complete and to see in orbit.”