White Paper

White Paper: Space and Beyond - Technology and the Space-based Data Chain

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WHITE PAPER Space and Beyond: Commercial Technology and the Space-based Data Chain mrcy.com 2 mrcy.com 2 MICROELECTRONICS AND THE FUTURE OF SPACE The evolving space technology landscape When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 in October 1957, space suddenly became a very real domain for U.S. national defense, as shown by the creation of both DARPA and NASA the following year. Sputnik sent radio signals back to Earth for 22 days on its three silver zinc batteries before burning up in the atmosphere exactly three months after its launch. Satellites and other space vehicles have come a long way since the beach-ball-size first artificial satellite. Today 's satellites have an average life span of 5 to 15 years and can do far more than send and receive radio signals. They are now used for broadband internet, TV, observation, weather, intelligence, communications, security, defense, environmental health, and more. The electronic components used in these satellites and their on-orbit sensor processing subsystems have traditionally come with a high financial cost and long development timeline. This is due to their roots in government programs, the need for them to meet complex performance and testing requirements, and the large amount of testing required for every customized, mission-specific component. However, this technology landscape is evolving because the availability of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) microelectronics is quickly removing this roadblock to space. By applying advanced, secure packaging and upscreening techniques to COTS parts, space-ready components that meet extreme environmental requirements can now be developed and deployed at much lower costs and in much shorter time frames. This lowered entry barrier is enabling a satellite- and space-based data boom, opening the door to new missions and applications. For example, it has been especially helpful for the creation of satellite constellations such as SpaceX Starlink, which uses numerous connected and similar satellites and components to create one internet network. Modern space vehicles and the technology data chain Modern space vehicles are relatively small for their powerful capabilities. For example, LEO satellites, which live at a low orbit height of 180 km to 2,000 km, typically range in size from a washing machine to a compact car, and defensive weapons such as hypersonics are scores smaller than the multistory-tall ICBMs of the past. The advanced components on these modern vehicles include sensors capable of detecting radio frequency and microwave signals; visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light; gas emissions; and more. The big data collected by these sensors present an enormous opportunity to increase and strengthen our intelligence and technological capabilities. For example, continual access to this data can help provide greater situational awareness and decision-making abilities, whether the mission is hypersonic weapon threat mitigation, improved scientific data collection to address challenges like climate change, or on-orbit AI to improve image accuracy. Capturing, storing, processing, and transmitting this information through a secure data chain connecting satellites, ships, planes, ground control, and more requires a complex system of onboard microelectronics and processing technology. This includes IR and microwave sensors, storage data recorders, RF to digital conversion, digital to RF reconversion, low-latency processors and memory, all of which must be durable and reliable under the toughest of conditions: space. Space-based electronics are critical components of the satellites that help us maintain our national defense advantage, and the rise of sensor technology that can gather extreme amounts of data is creating an opportunity to secure this advantage long term. Accomplishing this goal will require space microelectronics that can properly collect, store, process, interpret, and transmit a large amount of information—all while overcoming environmental conditions such as intense electromagnetic radiation and size, weight, and power (SWaP) limitations. This white paper discusses these challenges and explores how commercial technology companies and the aerospace and defense industry are merging their expertise and innovations to help the government organizations meet this moment.

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