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Activity title

Investigation of NATO Mission Priorities for Small Satellite Constellation Platform Technologies

Activity Reference



Applied Vehicle Technology

Security Classification



Awaiting Publication

Activity type


Start date


End date



Autonomous Operation, Constellations, Deployable Structures, Formation, Risk and Reliability, Small Satellites, Subsystem Interface Compatibility, System Integration


NATO is critically dependent upon space capabilities and services to conduct the missions and related responsibilities of the Alliance in a responsive and efficient manner. These missions include homeland and global security, out-of-area peace-keeping missions with rapid reaction forces, and asymmetric warfare. To meet these needs, operational requirements such as point to point communications, extended ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and geographical positioning will be prerequisites which will require a responsive and resilient space capability. The upcoming new generation of small satellites and space vehicles offer new potential to enhance these capabilities to benefit the future war-fighter. The primary features of small satellites are that they are significantly cheaper than larger platforms and that they can be launched with low cost, rapid response launch systems. Moreover, small satellite technology is enabling for the deployment of constellations or formations of space assets that can perform military tasks with increased resolution, higher revisits and improved performance. The advantage that is seen for small satellites is the ability to develop low cost, responsive systems to meet a range of needs and missions in both complexity and duration. Moreover, as technology advances, these Smallsats are showing performance capabilities that match those of the traditional large spacecraft, especially when operated as constellation or formation systems. These may be long term missions that a constellation of small satellites can provide, such as increased coverage or increased revisit capability for remote sensing or information gathering, or rapid response to immediate needs due to an insurgent situation; or a loss of other assets. In addition, lower cost spacecraft offer the possibility to increase resiliency at a system level through redundancy either on-orbit or on ground to reduce or defeat the effects of on-board system failure, or external “threats” to service. In addition to advanced technologies to enhance performance, a cost effective system measured in terms of risk and reliability in relation to the mission objective is required. Only through a proper assessment and evaluation of risk, reliability and projected performance can savings in cost (in terms of dollars and time) be achieved. New techniques and approaches must be developed to realize these savings.


The proposed Exploratory Team will develop a plan for implementation of some or all of the recommendations from AVT-257 to gain the benefit for smallsats to achieve NATO mission requirements. The Exploratory Team will seek input from other NATO organizations on the priority of technology development for Smallsats constellation platforms in order to implement the most important recommendations based on NATO mission needs.


A number of key recommendations that have been identified through AVT 257 Specialist Meeting including: 1. Need to compile a comprehensive catalogue of the Smallsats technologies development activity within NATO nations, to support collaborative work to address potential gaps for NATO satellite development programs. 2. Need to consider the entire ground/launch/space system to address space asset responsiveness 3. Need for additional intelligence on-board for data processing and enhanced autonomy 4. Need for innovative fabrication approaches such as structural modularity comparable to COTS, and plug and play interfaces 5. Need to address interoperability between different spacecraft, between nations, between large and small spacecraft (system of systems) 6. Need to continue to advance technologies to enhance on board capability including power, signal strength, repeatability, access, etc. to relieve the burden on the warfighter on the ground 7. Need to engage the user community early and throughout development to establish priorities. The AVT-257 Technical Team has established the state-of-the-art in key areas for Smallsats technology and identified a number of key recommendations for necessary advancements in technology and approach to enhance the capability and availability of Smallsats for NATO missions to improve performance and cost effectiveness, and benefit the NATO warfighter. The advice from other NATO user groups will be necessary to properly prioritize and act upon these recommendations to ensure that the technology necessary to enhance the value and responsiveness of Smallsats to the warfighter is developed in a timely fashion to support future NATO missions.

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