The experimental Pony Express 1 nanosat payload tests in orbit a new software-defined mission, on-board multi-core processing, and orbital cloud communications. This represents a new era of space-based computing, says the company, that will enable artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud networking, and advanced satellite communications in a robust new software-defined architecture.

“Early on-orbit data show Pony Express 1 is performing its important pathfinding mission very well,” says Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space. “Lockheed Martin’s HiveStar technology on board will give our customers unparalleled speed, resiliency, and flexibility for their changing mission needs by unlocking even greater processing power in space. This is the first of several rapid, self-funded experiments demonstrating our ability to systematically accelerate our customers’ speed to mission while reducing risk from new technologies.”

An example of rapid prototyping, Pony Express 1 was developed, built, and integrated in nine months, and was funded completely by Lockheed Martin Research and Development funding. It is packed with new technology that fits into a satellite the size of a shoebox, says the company, and some of the key technologies being flight tested include the following:

  • HiveStar software validates advanced adaptive mesh communications between satellites, shared processing capabilities and can take advantage of sensors aboard other smart satellites to customize missions in new ways previously difficult to achieve in space.
  • A software-defined radio that allows for high-bandwidth hosting of multiple RF applications, store-and-forward RF collection, data compression, digital signal processing and waveform transmission.
  • 3D-printed wideband antenna housing developed by Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Research Technology Center.

Pony Express 1 is a dual-use payload that enables mesh networks in space through the company’s HiveStar software, and a second function that tests space-to-ground remote sensing. Future research missions this year, like Pony Express 2, are planned to further advance cloud networking concepts among satellites, as well as validate the company’s SmartSat software-defined satellite architecture, which enables streamlined hosting of flexible mission apps.

This mission consists of two 12U cubesats with faster, more capable ultra-scale processors that unlock in-orbit data analytics and artificial intelligence. Equipped with miniaturized cross-link and precision timing, Pony Express 2, says the company, is a trailblazer for autonomous teaming in space and true cloud networking.

The Pony Express 1 mission was launched as a hosted payload on Tyvak-0129, a next-generation Tyvak 6U spacecraft.

Lockheed Martin

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