Mission Design Platforms Will Mass Produce Space Launches

November 24, 2023 Topic: Space Region: Global Blog Brand: Techland Tags: Aerospace IndustrySpace TravelNASAGreat Power Competition

Mission Design Platforms Will Mass Produce Space Launches

Preliminary Mission Design platforms (PMDs) will allow the military to rapidly train, build, and deploy satellites on the cheap.

The successful Apollo 11 mission that placed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon was the product of billions of dollars, thousands of personnel, and years of planning. Almost $25 billion and 400,000 workers were responsible for placing Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon for just a few hours before successfully returning to Earth. Today, the personnel and budget needed to launch satellites and other spacefaring craft into orbit has dropped significantly, but still requires a high degree of technical expertise. That is where Preliminary Mission Design (PMD) platforms come in. These platforms allow users to build their satellite, choose launch locations, and plan their mission to account for the satellite's lifetime.

One company, Morpheus Space, wants to make planning a trip into orbit as easy as opening your laptop and selecting a template. Morpheus has built a PMD system that allows anyone, be it a soldier or civilian, to plan a mission to space. Equipping our soldiers, contractors, and technicians with the ability to quickly plan and execute a space mission with minimal training will give the United States a massive tactical advantage in the evolving race for space.

I sat down with two of Morpheus’ engineers as they walked me through their PMD platform, Journey. Under development for almost two years, Journey allows users to design custom space missions by selecting the launch date, solar cycle, and path of orbit and to see thrusters and other power sources that would best fit that type of mission.

PMDs like Journey integrate multiple products from a plethora of manufacturers to give the user multiple options depending on mission objectives. Chemical and electric propulsion systems each come with their own set of drawbacks. PMDs can plan out an orbital mission based on whether a satellite needs to quickly reach its target or loiter to collect the most data possible. Mission planners can account for the satellite’s entire orbital life cycle and can adjust the satellite’s orbit based on real-time changes in space.

Crucially for defense systems in the age of technology, PMDs allow mission planners to pre-program maneuvers for satellites to misdirect tracking systems. For example, if a satellite is expected to be tracked and monitored by a hostile nation, Journey allows stochastic maneuvering to be pre-programmed into the mission. That way, tracking systems will be unable to predict the exact location of a satellite due to the pre-programmed maneuvers. PMDs that allow users to pre-program misdirection and unpredictable movement into their mission will allow for a greater chance at a successful mission.

While not as maneuverable as hypersonic missiles, this pre-programmed maneuverability allows PMDs to be extremely adaptable. Additionally, monitoring the satellite during its journey becomes a much easier exercise for mission planners, as PMDs allow users to take stock of ground stations and the precise time that they will be able to communicate with the satellite. Combined with the falling costs of space launches, PMDs and other platforms can be used to plan multiple launches at multiple locations, granting mission planners an additional level of adaptability, as malfunctions with one launch could be factored into future missions and accounted for.

Perhaps the largest boon for the defense sector that PMD systems provide is the speed at which individuals can be trained to use the system. Some platforms like Ansys’ STK can be used for modeling air, sea, and ground assets, in addition to space launches. Making PMDs easily accessible for personnel without a technical background helps shrink training times from months to days

The defensive capabilities of Journey are immense. Allowing personnel on the ground to plan out a mission and account for propulsion, communication, and material needs would drastically shrink the amount of time it would take to put a satellite in orbit from anywhere on Earth’s surface. NASA possesses a Multi-Mission Operations System that allows users to select different propulsion systems and other assets for their space-faring mission, but doing so takes time. Other PMDs like Journey and STK could allow for mass mission planning alongside mass production of space assets, which saves time and money by allowing space assets to come off the production line and immediately be ready for launch. 

In a conflict, time saved equals lives saved. PMDs will allow the military to rapidly train, build, and deploy satellites on the cheap. PMD’s capability to show mission planners possible orbits the best technology for a mission and do so in a user-friendly interface makes it a strategic and logistically important system for the military and private sector.

Roy Mathews is a Writer for Young Voices. He is a graduate of Bates College and a 2023 Publius Fellow at The Claremont Institute. He has been published in the Wall Street Journal, National Review, and Law & Liberty. You can follow him on X here.

Image: Shutterstock.com.