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On-orbit Servicing Where To Play Analysis

Leveraging the “Where to Play” methodology developed at EPFL and Technion, I assessed the unique capabilities either currently in the Voyager portfolio, or planned for future development or acquisition to brainstorm potential in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM) market opportunities that Voyager could potentially pursue. I then evaluated the most promising market opportunities both on the basis of value creation potential and on the perceived challenges to Voyager capturing that value potential. Based on those results, I was able to downselect to the four most promising market opportunities to pursue.

Since performing this analysis in late 2021, I was able to support Voyager portfolio companies in submitting over a dozen NASA, DIU, and Space Force proposals related to these four market opportunity areas, resulting in over half a dozen contract wins, worth over $1.5M in new revenue to-date.

Voyager ISAM Where to Play Process
Voyager ISAM Focus Area Proposal Faux CAD (credit Voyager Space)
3-Burn Departure CONOPS
Altius OASIS Microdepot Concept

LEO Depots and 3-Burn Departure Methodologies

Working with astrogators at Space Exploration Engineering, I helped develop a 3-burn departure methodology to enable rocket stages refueled at a LEO depot to send payloads on-demand to beyond LEO destinations. This depot mission CONOPS resolved a key operational constraint previously identified by NASA for using LEO depots to support interplanteary missions.

Our team has so far written two conference papers on the topic that were presented at AIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Specialists Conferences in 2017 and 2018 (summarized here and here on Selenian Boondocks), and one conference presentation at the 2021 Interplanetary Small Satellite Conference. We are currently working on a follow-on paper to be presented at the 2022 International Astronautical Congress in Paris, focused on using LEO depots for smallsat MEO and GEO missions.

DogTags Grapple Fixtures

The OneWeb LEO broadband constellation is in the process of launching over 600 satellites into a nearly 1200km operating orbit. At that altitude, a satellite that failed prematurely could stay on-orbit for hundreds of years. As part of their responsible space initiative, OneWeb decided to design all of their satellites with grapple fixtures that could enable a space tug to safely and reliably grapple a failed Oneweb satellite, and tow it to down a safe disposal orbit that would reenter in less than a year or two.

At OneWeb’s request, I spearheaded the Altius team that invented a universal grappling interface that was less than 1/4 the mass of their original design, significantly cheaper, and most importantly, could be grasped by a wide range of capture technologies, including magnetic grappling. This development involved collaborating with a wide range of manufacturing partners, and with other satellite servicing developers to ensure intercompatibility. We also had to win a competition with other competing industry grappling interfaces. To-date, around 350 DogTags have been launched on OneWeb satellites, making it one of the most mass-produced satellite grappling fixtures in history.

DogTagsā„¢ Grapple Fixtures mounted on OneWeb Satellites prior to launch
Closeup of DogTag flight hardware (credit Altius)
Xoie VTVL lander and NGLLC Level Two First Prize Winner (credit: Masten)

Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge

In 2009, I was the lead propulsion engineer at Masten Space Systems, while Masten was competing in a NASA-sponsored prize for vertical takeoff and landing rocket powered landers, called the Lunar Lander Challenge. In less than six months we went from our first stable tether test of a vehicle to winning two of the four prizes, including first place in the challenging Level Two competition.

For my part, I helped take the Xoie vehicle, that we won that $1M prize with, from an Excel spreadsheet what-if scenario to a rocket-powered flight vehicle in less than five months. That included designing, sourcing, fabricating, and assembling hundreds of machined and welded structures, and supporting development and testing of an innovative all-aluminum regen cooled rocket engine, supporting several flight test campaigns, and patching a giant hole we had melted through the concrete landing pad, in gale-force winds, the night before the competition.

After the NGLLC, the Xombie vehicle went on to perform an in-air relight demonstration that was a key factor in SpaceX switching to rocket powered landing for Falcon 9. Xombie also currently holds the record for the number of rocket powered flights on a single airframe, with over 270 flights. Additionally, Xombie was used to flight-test JPL’s G-FOLD landing algorithms that were then used for landing the NASA Perseverance rover on Mars in 2021.