Modular satellites and ridesharing beat price of space mission
Interview with CEO and CTO of Modularity Space
Modularity Space is developing low-cost modular reusable satellites that can be repaired, refueled, and upgraded in space, calling this innovative approach “Click-and-GO”. Scott Weintraub founded the company based in Daytona Beach, Florida in 2016. Inspired by desktop computers, Modularity Space satellites and flight software revolve around interoperability allowing both subsystems and payloads to simply click together and work.
“This “Click-and-GO” approach enables a completely mission flexible, hardware-agnostic, software-defined satellite,” says Nolan Coulter, Chief Technology Officer at Modularity Space. “Imagine being able to completely interface, test, and operate your payload or satellite with a simple click of a button.”
Bringing the “Click-and-GO” satellite into production is a team of engineers and entrepreneurs with an extensive background in on-orbit servicing, modular satellites, and flight software. In our new #knowyouroptions interview, Precious Payload spoke to Scott and Nolan about the advantages of the modular approach in satellite development.
Precious Payload: How did you come up with an idea for your business?
Modularity Space: We were once an On-orbit servicing company; however, we realized that the main problem within the industry was the fact that no satellite was truly designed to be mission flexible or serviceable – this inspired “Click-and-GO”. Although not our primary focus, we believe that this approach will enable the first reusable satellite where components can be swapped out or replaced to extend services and capabilities.
Right now, we are focused on payload rideshare opportunities offering 16U CubeSats that have flight heritage. The first flight is slated for December 2020 or early spring 2021. After that initial flight, we plan to have a regular launch cadence of these 16U CubeSat rideshare missions every quarter and then offer our own, larger satellite bus, HOST, in 2021 for both payload rideshare and dedicated missions.
Read more about satellite buses in our #knowyouroptions interview with Negar Feher from Momentus
PP: Where do you see your team in the space ecosystem?
MS: Our team consists of experts in modular satellite architecture and autonomous flight software development achieved through years as an on-orbit servicing company. We are currently focused on providing platforms for both rideshare and dedicated missions with turnkey services provided through us and a network of space logistics, licensing, supplier, and mission planning partners. It is our goal to allow customers to focus on their payload and services allowing us to handle the satellite operations and mission requirements.
“Modular approach will enable the first reusable satellite where components can be swapped out or replaced to extend services and capabilities of space mission”
PP: Hosting a payload on a shared platform is not a solution for everyone but certain types of teams can benefit from it a lot. Who are they?
MS: We believe that every team and organization stand to benefit from payload rideshare opportunities that allow all payloads on-board the satellite to share the extreme costs of launch and operation associated with space missions. We have focused ourselves on customer centricity dedicated to bringing a mission flexible and low-cost solution. Now for larger payloads that have high data or power requirements, rideshare may not be the best option which is why we also offer dedicated satellite solutions for those teams where ridesharing may not provide the best solution but still stand to gain the vast benefits of a software-defined, “Click-and-GO” satellite.
PP: When should the customers go to you and what do they need to have/know before they reach out to you? What is the workflow in this case?
MS: For those innovators looking for either a rideshare opportunity or dedicated satellite mission, contacting us at the earliest time possible is best so we can start looking for organizing and planning their mission with other rideshare payloads. All we ask from the customers is for them to know their payload; know, at the very least, their high-level requirements such as data storage needs, expected power, operation requirements, etc. The more they know, the better we can understand their mission needs. After that, the customers are free to focus on their payload and get it to flight-ready status which we are more than happy to assist with that process. Once the payload is flight-ready, the “Click-and-GO” design makes it easy and fast to interface, test, and then operate the payloads once on-orbit.
PP: What is a “UFO”?
MS: UFO stands for Unique Flight Opportunity. We plan to offer a free flight for a payload on our rideshare satellites. This opportunity is open now with proposal requirements and payload requirements outlined on our website.
PP: Do you have specific criteria to choose the winner?
MS: The main idea behind UFO is to provide one unique payload that supports a team/organization developing innovative technology with a ride to orbit. It is open to both commercial and university/educational payloads.
“Ridesharing can completely cut costs for a space mission by more than 50%”
PP: What is the coolest idea of a hosted payload you’ve seen so far?
MS: The coolest idea so far has been a rendezvous and docking testing payload. Essentially a team wanted to operate a payload on our platform for long duration testing but also wanted to see how the technology operated and assisted with proximity operations. The team planned to launch a 3U CubeSat to test this on the same launch as our mission. Of course, this would involve a lot of work to make sure proper operational safety is kept especially when we have other payloads on board to think about, but this was a very interesting proposal and something we are open to supporting.
PP: Give your perspective on a hosted payloads market, how do you think it will be developing?
MS: From our current industry review and the customers we have spoken with, we think rideshare opportunities will continue to grow. The surface is just now really getting scratched in terms of entire satellites focused on hosting multiple payloads. Traditionally, a larger dedicated satellite might be approached to see if there is room for one or two payloads – but these traditional satellites are very expensive and require a lot of work to make them even remotely compatible with hosting even a single external payload. When you start really looking into ridesharing payloads, the costs of launch and operations can then be shared across all of the different payloads reducing the individual costs. We’ve seen instances where ridesharing can completely cut costs for a space mission by more than 50%.
Read more about hosted payloads business in our #knowyouroptions interview with Doug Liddle from In-Space Missions
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