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Small Spacecraft Technology Program Overview
May 21, 2013



Four Flight Demonstration Projects
EDSN (Edison Demonstration of SmallSat Networks
OCSD (Optical Communication and Sensor Demonstration)
ISARA (Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna)
CPOD (Cubesat Proximity Operations Demonstration)

FY13 Solicitations

Smallsat Technology Partnerships (NNA13ZUA001C) – opportunity for collaboration between universities and NASA researchers for small spacecraft technology development and demonstration.

Small Spacecraft Technology Development (Appendix E of NNL12A3001N) – in partnership with the STMD Flight Opportunities Program, an opportunity for development of small spacecraft propulsion technology and small earth return vehicles.

Phonesat Timeline

Program Objectives

The Small Spacecraft Technology Program, one of the nine programs in the Space Technology Mission Directorate, has three primary objectives:  

  1. Identify and support the development of new subsystem technologies to enhance or expand the capabilities of small spacecraft. The program seeks to develop subsystem technologies that are new and revolutionary in their impact, rather than incremental improvements of existing subsystems. The goal is to advance subsystem technologies from a readiness level of 3 (analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept) to a readiness level of 5 (component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment).  
  2. Support flight demonstrations of new technologies, capabilities and applications for small spacecraft. The program seeks to demonstrate technologies that are new and capabilities that have not previously been demonstrated in space. The goal is to advance technologies and capabilities from a readiness level of 5 (component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment) to a readiness level of at least 7 (system prototype demonstration in an operational environment).  
  3. Use small spacecraft as platforms for testing and demonstrating technologies and capabilities that might have more general applications in larger-scale spacecraft and systems. The program seeks to contribute to the full range of NASA's science and technology challenges, where demonstrations with small spacecraft can reduce the cost, risk, complexity or time required to advance the state-of-the-art.

All efforts focus on small spacecraft capabilities that are relevant to NASA's missions in science, exploration, space operations and aeronautics including those with crosscutting applications for NASA and other users.

The program consists of four elements intended to encompass the development and demonstration of a range of technologies and capabilities and to engage the talents of the broad community of researchers and technologists from government, industry and academia.

Focused Technology Development and Demonstrations: full and open solicitations for projects in development and flight demonstrations in focused small spacecraft technology areas such as communications, propulsion, etc.

Mission Capability Demonstrations: flight demonstration projects for new mission capabilities involving both competitive contracts and directed NASA efforts.

Leveraged Investments: continuation of selected projects from Small Business Innovation Research or other programs as well as prize challenges and other initiatives.

Smallsat Technology Partnerships: collaboration between universities and NASA in technology development and demonstrations (the subject of this notice).

Typically, annual solicitations and other initiatives in each of the four elements are planned; however, budget limitations may constrain or postpone planned activities.

What is a Small Spacecraft?

The definition is arbitrary but this program considers small spacecraft to be those with a mass of less than 180 kilograms. Some commonly accepted terms used for small spacecraft are the following:

smallsat graph Minisatellite, 100 kilograms or higher
Microsatellite, 10-100 kilograms
Nanosatellite, 1-10 kilograms
Picosatellite, 0.01-1 kilograms
Femtosatellite, 0.001-0.01 kilograms

A cubesat is a special category of nanosatellite. One cubesat unit (1U) has dimensions of 10 by 10 by 11 centimeters. Cubesats have been built in 1U, 1.5U, 2U, 3U and 6U sizes.

Download the SSTP Program Overview
Download the SSTP Project Listing


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Small Spacecraft Technology icon showing an astronaut drawing
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Page Last Updated: October 21st, 2014
Page Editor: Loura Hall