Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing company, demonstrated several new technologies – expected and unexpected – on orbit with their RED;EYE small satellite constellation. Built for DARPA, the satellite was nicknamed RED;EYE for the conspicuous bright red “remove before flight” cover used to keep the payload clean. The small satellites’ purpose was to demonstrate new avionics, communications devices, on-board processors and crosslinks.
“Millennium is well known for wringing every possible utility out of small sats, and this was no exception,” said Jason Kim, chief executive officer of Millennium Space Systems. “RED;EYE showed what’s possible when it comes to advancing capabilities for small satellite constellations and resiliency. And we’re demonstrating it on-orbit in a way that’s cost and schedule efficient.”
RED;EYE was able to control a constellation’s orbital spacing through aerodynamic drag modulation and management in low Earth orbit. If the satellites needed to come together for a cross-link as an example, the Millennium team developed a simple method to manage their aerodynamic drag simultaneously to control the constellation spacing.
“Satellite propulsion is not always an option – since we launched off the International Space Station, we had to ensure that our space vehicles were safe for the astronauts onboard,”said Doug Hulse, RED;EYE program manager, Millennium Space Systems. “Instead, we used a novel approach to orbital spacing which allowed us to control the satellite constellation and perform our demonstrations without propulsion.”
The team took it a step further with space and ground-based automation, allowing the constellation to essentially self-control its orbital spacing.
While designed for a nine-month on-orbit mission life, the small satellites continue to operate today without capability degradation.
“RED;EYE is also performing real-time on-board processing,” said Hulse. “Getting data down from a satellite can take a long time. If we can process raw data onboard and downlink only the information that we want to learn, we can really improve the latency of the system to provide that information to the users.”
The program is demonstrating multi-path-communications on-orbit, creating a path to networked small sat constellations. Different communication layers can serve various functions – resiliency and multiple parallel missions – potentially for use in multiple domains.
The RED;EYE contract concluded in December 2021 and the first satellite decommissioned in June 2022. The satellites launched in 2019 and 2020 from the ISS.