ATK Vice President Jim Armor Discusses A-Series Satellite Bus Expansion (Part 1)

[Satellite News 08-07-12] ATK recently expanded its product line of small, agile satellite buses to meet design requirements for a wider range of missions in civil, national security and commercial applications in both near-term and long-term markets. The manufacturer added four basic configurations to its A-series product line: the A100, A200, A500 and A700 models, with elevated platforms of A150, A250 and A550, which aim to provide broader capability and flexibility for customers.

   The ATK A100 is ATK’s small bus offering for microsats and nanosats. The ATK A200 series features ATK’s Responsive Space Modular Bus (RSMB), which aims to provide considerable power, precision pointing and significant data throughput for sophisticated military and scientific payloads. The ATK A500 series offers a High End Modular Bus (HEMB) that allows for increased payload complexity and size, as well as extended life. The HEMB is the platform selected for the DARPA Phoenix mission to conduct on-orbit satellite servicing and repurposing. The ATK A700 series bus is the largest mission class and is the foundation of the ViviSat Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV).
   According to ATK Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for Spacecraft Systems and retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jim Armor, the products were conceived in order to capitalize on an expected upswing across multiple markets in microsat missions, continued demand for small, rapidly developed spacecraft and the on-orbit satellite servicing market.
   In the first portion of this two-part interview, Armor speaks with Satellite News about the development plans that ATK put into the expanded A-series, as well as the direction that the satellite industry is taking in terms of bus size. Armor is a former director of the NAVSTAR GPS Joint Program Office, now known as the GPS Wing, as vice-president of strategy and business development for spacecraft systems.
 
Satellite News: Which satellite market factors drove ATK to develop this expansion to the A-series line?
 
Armor: The expansion was really driven by the conversations we had with all of our commercial, military and civil customers. At the time we engaged those customers, we had been producing our celebrated Responsive Space Modular Bus (RSMB) and we had just given it a new name. We pointed out to the marketplace that we could build smaller and larger buses, as customers in these sectors were looking for more flexibility. So, we developed a bus that has a lot of agility to it and meets a lot of these expanded needs. This new family of A-series satellite buses that we put out is really just a way to communicate more clearly with a wide variety of customers that are looking sometimes to put new missions in space.
 
Satellite News: Did ATK foresee the increasing demand for small satellites? If so, what kind of applications did you see driving that demand?
 
Armor: ATK absolutely recognized the increasing need for small satellites in the market. There is considerable interest coming from the commercial sector to put different types of missions in space. For example, you can take a look at the increasing number of interesting space missions being proposed — like putting an iPhone in space and other little experiments like that. Those small missions are starting to blossom now and because of that, we’re going to see more and more customers looking for robust satellite buses that are a little bit larger than what’s being offered by experimental models. As far as which specific applications are being developed, we’ve flown a wide variety of missions in this space from hyperspectral sensors to the EO/IR sensor on the ORS-1 satellite. Now, as we go upscale a little bit with the A500 bus, we’re looking to focus on robotics and satellite service capability. The variety of capabilities that we can support on these buses is wide and almost infinite.
 
Satellite News: Does this focus on small satellites open up more opportunities in the academic sphere for ATK?
 
Armor: Academia has really taken a fancy to our new offerings. We’re actually partnered with the University of Maryland on the DARPA Phoenix mission. We’re doing some other robotic experiments with academic partners, as well. There are a lot of really energized people in the academic market. It’s a fun community to hang around and what we’re doing also fits into the United States’ STEM education initiatives to support math and science programs.
 
Satellite News: Are there any orders you’re working on right now? What’s the short- and long-term outlook?
 
Armor: We’re pretty upbeat. We are ramping up on the DARPA Phoenix mission, of course, and there are some other proprietary programs that we’re ramping up as well. We have submitted a few proposals and there is a lot of interest from different government agencies like the U.S. Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles that have issued study contracts and are looking for ideas. The same scenario is also true for a number of other agencies. That’s what we’ll be looking for in the next 12 months. 

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