By Jason Cutshaw (SMDC/ARSTRAT)May 7, 2019
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama - The U.S. Army is all ACES as it continues to blaze a trail for the future use of space.
The Army Cost Efficient Spaceflight Research Experiments and Demonstrations, or ACES RED, Attitude Determination and Control System, or ADCS, Flyer was launched to the International Space Station aboard the Falcon 9 SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services 17 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 4. Once it reaches the International Space Station it will be attached to the outside of the ISS to begin 12 months of data collection.
"We are very excited about the launch. It has been a long time coming," said Rebecca Eade, ACES RED project lead. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get to sit here with NASA and watch a rocket go off, especially knowing there is something you have had an impact on that is going into space. It's not something that everybody gets to do so it's kind of a big deal."
The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center's Space Systems Division developed the ACES RED project to examine the performance of attitude determination, attitude control, flight computers, and other low-cost, commercial-off-the-shelf, or COTS, systems in a space environment. ACES RED was designed, fabricated and assembled in the Tech Center's Concepts Analysis Laboratory and will be mounted to the ISS where it will transmit experimentation data to a manned operations center at Redstone Arsenal.
"This is a science experiment and we have mostly undergraduate and graduate students working on it," Eade said. "It is a really cool experiment that uses COTS items that are not flight-graded and we are trying to prove out that you can use certain components in space."
Through ACES RED, the Army is looking to drive down cost and risk of equipment while potentially qualifying parts with a technology readiness level suitable for space use in future small satellites. It will be capable of supporting multiple simultaneous experiments with its modular "plug-in" design. ACES RED is designed similarly to the motherboard of a personal computer, which allows for the easy removal and replacement of experiments.
To accomplish the goals of the ACES RED team, they are receiving support from Radiance Technologies and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, or UAH, System Management and Production Center. The team is almost entirely composed of young engineers, college students and recent college graduates under the close supervision of government engineers and contractors.
"We are going to put something up on the ISS and not many people can say that," said Andrew Webb, a UAH graduate student and software engineer. "We are also testing a lot of new things that no one has ever flown before, and to be able to do that coming right out of college is really cool.
"I've always worked with software but when I first came here we were working with hardware and getting the software to work with the hardware first," he added. "I have gradually migrated to the ground-station software that we recently developed."
The ACES RED experiment looks to quickly mature various COTS technologies that will reduce the cost and complexity as well as maintain the performance of future Army small satellites. One of the advantages to the SMDC designed system is that most of the parts that will be going to space were assembled or modified right here on Redstone Arsenal by in-house engineers.
ACES RED serves as a pilot program to build up test capabilities for space hardware to gain future capabilities such as more refined attitude determination and control for satellites to help orient them when in space, as well as taking industrial-grade computers and testing them in a space environment.
Its main technical goal is to solve vectoring problem solutions by implementing multiple sensors in various combinations or configurations. ACES RED's secondary objectives include maturation of non-traditional and COTS industrial-grade components in place of traditionally hardened space-rated systems, which are vastly more expensive such as flight computers, memory devices, imaging sensors and attitude determination devices.
"Early on in its development I helped design the circuit boards and other hardware that is onboard," said Evan Swinney, a UAH student and computer engineer. "After that, I have moved into more of a software role specializing in combining hardware and software components more easily. I have been working on this for three years and at 21-years-old I never could have thought I would be doing something like this.
"Also, the launch was really exciting, I got to see a Falcon 9 go up, and to have something we worked on go up with it is an honor," he added.