Defense Speak Interpreted: SWaPing Nanosatellites for Defense Systems

When I say “SWaP,” you might be thinking: A swap for what? What’s in the trade?

SWaP, in fact, is a common term in the defense community, and it stands for size, weight, and power—the holy grail of technical performance for defense systems. Size determines what can be loaded into the weapon system volume, which is especially important when rocket propulsion is involved—whether within the atmosphere (i.e., missiles) or in space. Weight is important regardless of the type of system we’re talking about, be it missiles or artillery or rocket launchers. Why? Lighter weapons require less propellant (or a smaller engine) to be mobile on the battlefield. Finally, power refers to the energy needed for continuous operation of the weapon; this is a major consideration for battery-operated systems, such as communication or computation modules.

How do you compare designs to optimize SWaP? That is a more disciplined science than you might think. Perhaps the most refined standard for SWaP is for “CubeSats1.” The CubeSat specifications were first proposed in 1999 by professors Jordi Puig-Suari and Bob Twiggs, of California Polytechnic State University and Standford University, respectively, and though this concept is now over 20 years old, it’s continued to gain traction—especially since 2013 (Figure 1):

Denny_Dec22_Fig1.jpg
Figure 1: Data collected by the Nanosats Database shows a marked increase in the number of nanosatellites launched since 20132.

What is the size of a single unit CubeSat? These are “10 cm × 10 cm × 11.35 cm (3.94" × 3.94" × 4.47") units designed to provide 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm (3.9" × 3.9" × 3.9") or 1 liter (0.22 imp gal; 0.26 US gal) of useful volume, with each unit weighing no more than 2 kg (4.4 lb).” Standard CubeSats are generally comprised of three such units (3U), a specification that accounts for over 40% of all nanosatellites launched to date, though form factors can range from a single unit (1U) to as many as 12U, which is achieved by stacking 3Us side by side1.

Think of a 1U CubeSat as about the size of a quart of liquid but weighing twice as much as a quart of water.

Now, consider the size of circuit boards. Can you think of any IPC specification that refers to a standard size? I can’t, but many others have, and they’ve formed their own consortia to publish standards on their products’ interchangeability. The PC/104 Consortium3 is one that adopted a 3.550 in × 3.775 in format for boards. Say, that sounds like it would fit nicely in the CubeSat space of 3.94 in × 3.94 in, doesn’t it3? And with so many CubeSats being launched, Cal Poly engineers needed to develop a missile format to launch these “same size” satellites; this system, called the Poly-Pico Satellite Orbital Deployer (P-POD), allows all CubeSats regardless of length to be launched and deployed using a common deployment system4.

Enough about the size of the electronics in our analysis—what about weight and power? Since the folks who work on CubeSats have specified maximum weight values, weight is less of a concern than it otherwise would be. The CubeSat standard sets the maximum mass of a 1U CubeSat at 1.33 kg, with larger masses selectively considered5.

Power, though, is more subjective. Power is based on the use rate, or the ability of a CubeSat to re-charge its solar batteries and the weight of battery that can be budgeted. As CubeSats are in low Earth orbit, they circle the earth at a minimum altitude of 93 miles every two hours or less, meaning that our satellite can only charge its batteries half the time. Additional factors, such as deployable solar surface, efficiency of solar cells, battery storage efficiency, etc., must also be considered. In our example SWaP design, our CubeSat’s peak power is 34 watts—about as powerful as a pretty dim lightbulb. Of course, designers do not intend a CubeSat to operate at peak power right from launch, as both the solar cells and the battery will degrade over time. Still, 18 charge/discharge cycles per day equates to 6,500 cycles per year, in sharp contrast to the 365 diurnal cycles for batteries and solar cells on earth. Perhaps the only saving grace is that the CubeSat under discussion only has an expected lifespan of three years—but that is nowhere near the longevity required by most defense applications.

To finish off our CubeSat analysis: How much does it cost to launch a 1U CubeSat? Prices vary, but a high ballpark estimate comes in at around $100,000, though $75,000 per kg is a more likely figure.

Of course, many defense-related SWaP applications are earth-based. “Man-portable” electronics equipment, which weighs in at 14 kg or 31 lbs.6, is an area of emerging opportunity for such applications. Some sources carry that concept further with man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) or even man-portable anti-tank systems (MANPATS). As their names imply, MANPADS are weapons systems intended to bring down low-flying aircraft, while MANPATS are designed to destroy battle tanks. The SWaP here is principally the launcher and the weapon, as well as any additional electronics necessary for target acquisition.

Another SWaP situation is making warfighters that are capable of analyzing the immediate battlespace, communicating with their units, and transmitting essential targeting information to weapons systems that they cannot personally operate. I think we have all become familiar with the importance of 5G communication through our own smartphones. Can we bring that same technology to the battlefield? Cellphones may be small, but the 5G base stations required to link phones together are not. Could a single designated infantryman, then, become a “cell tower”? It’s something to think about.

Finally, most of us have heard that “quantum computing” is the key to future electronics. What if that bulky quantum computing environment could be shrunk down to become man-portable? DARPA is funding the Quantum-Inspired Classical Computing (QuICC) contract, and who knows—man-portable quantum computing systems (MANQUCS) may be just around the corner.

References

  1. “CubeSat,” Wikipedia.com, Nov. 28, 2022.
  2. “Total nanosatellites and CubeSats launched,” nanosats.eu, Aug. 01, 2022.
  3. “PC/104 Consortium,” Wikipedia.com, Sept. 27, 2022.
  4. “CubeSat Concept: P-POD (Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer),” eoPortal.org, May 30, 2012.
  5. “Section 3.2.10-3.2.10.1,” by The CubeSat Program at Cal Poly SLO, CubeSat Design Specification Rev. 13, Feb. 20, 2014.
  6. “Man Portable,” TheFreeDictionary.com.

Dennis Fritz was a 20-year direct employee of MacDermid Inc. and is retired after 12 years as a senior engineer at (SAIC) supporting the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. He was elected to the IPC Hall of Fame in 2012.

Back

2022

Defense Speak Interpreted: SWaPing Nanosatellites for Defense Systems

12-06-2022

When I say “SWaP,” you might be thinking: A swap for what? What’s in the trade? SWaP, in fact, is a common term in the defense community, and it stands for size, weight, and power_—the holy grail of technical performance for defense systems. Size determines what can be loaded into the weapon system volume, which is especially important when rocket propulsion is involved—whether within the atmosphere (i.e., missiles) or in space. Weight is important regardless of the type of system we’re talking about, be it missiles or artillery or rocket launchers. Finally, power refers to the energy needed for continuous operation of the weapon; this is a major consideration for battery-operated systems, such as communication or computation modules.

View Story
Back

2021

Defense Speak Interpreted: Who Won the Project Convergence War Game—Evil Chaos or JADC2?

12-21-2021

I know you have been on the edge of your seats since my Defense Speaks September column, “What Does Convergence Mean to Defense?” or back to my February column, “So, What’s a JADC2?” While I tackled some other government defense topics, I realize I have left you hanging concerning the big interservice war game maneuvers, Project Convergence (PC), which tested out the information connection described in the JADC2 effort. I know, I know, you thought after my “Son of JEDI” description of a cloud-based information flow, that all service branches would soon be coordinated and talking to each other smoothly.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: What Happened to Our Defense JEDI?

11-09-2021

When I last wrote about the Defense’s JEDI program (not JEDI knight) back in June, we had high hopes for its success. JEDI stands for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure and is the backbone cloud computer system for Defense to tie the service branches together. To refresh your memory, Defense issued a $10 billion-plus contract to Microsoft for the massive cloud software effort, and Amazon appealed the award. When I wrote my June column, Defense had vowed to see the contract appeal though and grant the contract to Microsoft.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: The ‘Trouble’ With Obsolescence

10-12-2021

How could a simple word like obsolescence stir up so much trouble within the Defense Department? Obsolescence is defined as the process of becoming obsolete or the condition of being nearly obsolete. Dennis Fritz explains its connection to Defense.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: What Does Convergence Mean to Defense?

09-14-2021

How can a simple term like “convergence” be confusing, even at the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army? Webster’s dictionary defines convergence as “1. The act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity,” and “4. The merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole.”

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Decoding the Military’s COCOM

08-10-2021

Have you ever followed Defense activities around the world and been confused by terms like CENTCOM or SOUTHCOM? Who’s in charge of worldwide Defense activities—just “a big guy at the top” or regional commanders? How do Army, Navy, and Air Force stay coordinated around the world in various geographies?

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: POM—Explaining the Process for Defense Budgeting

07-13-2021

Anyone hanging around Defense programs will have surely heard of the term “POM.” Most of the connotations I have heard say that if you have a POM or will get “POM’d,” your program is “skating on solid ice.” That led me to infer that if you were in the POM, your program was established. But why and how?

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: The U.S. Has a Space Force—JEDI Knights Next?

06-08-2021

Does the U.S. Department of Defense's JEDI contract mean it's going into a Star Wars production? Sorry, no Stephen Spielberg this time. Sorting out the good guys and bad guys in this cloud computing scenario.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Defense on Legacy Weapons Systems

05-11-2021

As “Defense Speak Interpreted” readers have surmised, the weapons systems of yesterday, today, and tomorrow are under review, both with President Biden and with the Congress now in control by Democrats. But “weapons systems of yesterday”? In the fast-paced consumer electronics world, “legacy” never comes up.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Industrial Base Evaluation

04-06-2021

So, what is an “industrial base” to the Defense Department? And wouldn’t we expect a “battle plan” from Defense, not an “industrial strategy”? We want to review the Defense Industrial Strategy in the January, 2021 Report to Congress from the Acquisition and Sustainment section of the Department of Defense.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: So, What’s a JADC2?

02-09-2021

The term JADC2 was prevalent in the late 2020 debate about the National Defense Authorization Act. It is a new way defense is using electronics to shape battle strategy. JADC2 is Defense Speak for “Joint All Domain Command and Control.” Sounds impressive, doesn’t it, but what does that mean?

View Story
Back

2020

Defense Speak Interpreted: What’s a VITA?

12-15-2020

Ever wonder how military electronics users could swap out circuit cards rapidly and keep their defense systems running? What about a “hot swap” of a circuit card that was questionable? How would defense depots keep enough unique circuit cards on hand to maintain the various systems in times of heavy use? The Department of Defense started to worry about those issues over 30 years ago and has helped private industry develop a highly sophisticated set of standards for circuit card input/output (I/O) to make quick change possible.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Intel Is Now Making a ‘SHIP’

11-10-2020

Perhaps you recently saw that Intel was awarded a contract for a SHIP by the U.S. Department of Defense. However, this one will not float on the water since SHIP stands for state-of-the-art heterogeneous integration prototype. Denny Fritz explains.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Rad-Hard Electronics

10-13-2020

Have you ever seen electronics described as “rad-hard,” or radiation-hardened, and wondered what that meant and how that was done? Did you like me just assume that “rad-hard” and “expensive” were synonymous? Did you think that this was a Defense Department term since they deal with nuclear weapons? Denny Fritz explores this and more.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: The Defense Innovation Unit

09-22-2020

Many of Denny Fritz's columns are about new defense technologies and innovations, but what about an organization with “innovation” in its name? Here, he describes the history and purpose of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), as well as some of its programs.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Unpacking the NDAA

08-25-2020

What is this NDAA stuff you keep hearing on the national news all the time, and why is it important to PCBs? Denny Fritz explains what is going on with the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes programs and lays out the priorities and policies for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: DMEA

07-14-2020

A June 17 article announced a supply chain award of $10.7 billion to eight defense companies for semiconductors. Dennis Fritz explains how the Defense Microelectronics Agency (DMEA) administers this contract and keeps the technology secure.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: C4ISR

06-16-2020

Only the U.S. Defense Department would lump together seven concepts—command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance—into a single acronym: C4ISR. Denny Fritz explains how C4ISR has been called the “nervous system” of the military.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: What’s an RCV, and What Do Electronics Have to Do With It?

05-12-2020

In "Defense Speak," RCV does not stand for ranked-choice voting, a remote control vehicle, a riot control vehicle, or a refuse collection vehicle, although the second one is close; it stands for a remote combat vehicle. Denny Fritz explores this concept and its defense applications.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Why Is Defense Hyper Over Hypersonics?

04-14-2020

Perhaps you have noticed that the term “hypersonics” is now a buzz phrase in a big part of the Department of Defense research effort. What does hypersonic mean, and why is so much work needed in this weapons field? Dennis Fritz explains.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Be Prepared for CMMC

03-24-2020

If you are a current or future Defense Department contractor or subcontractor, you need to be prepared for the next cybersecurity requirements coming online during 2020. This is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, or CMMC, in Defense speak. Dennis Fritz explains how there will be five levels of cybersecurity requirements for various amounts of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) you handle, with increasing requirements from one (least) to five (most).

View Story
Back

2019

Defense Speak Interpreted: The Continuing Resolution

12-10-2019

The topic of the continuing resolution (CR) has been sneaking past other hot Washington topics, such as impeachment, candidate debates, and why the Redskins are so bad. Dennis Fritz provides an update concerning a CR and the 2020 fiscal year.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Executive Agent

11-12-2019

After reading my previous column, you may have realized that electronics packaging technology development came from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. One of its core responsibilities is the assignment of “executive agent” for PCBs and electronic interconnects. But what is this “executive agent” thing, frequently shortened to EA? Dennis Fritz explains.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: PCB-related OTAs from NAVSEA Crane

10-29-2019

In my previous column, I described how Other Transaction Authority (OTA) projects were speeding up the development of new technology for the Defense Department. Much of this improvement has to do with the speed of contracting and the less restrictive selection and payment process involved. Specifically, I would like to call out projects under the National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL).

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Other Transaction Authority

09-19-2019

DIU grants contracts under a joint OTA and a parallel process called commercial solutions opening. Most of the five DIU focus areas depend on electronics: artificial intelligence (AI), autonomy, cyber, human systems, and space. At the end of 2018, DIU had funded 104 contracts with a total value of $354 million and brought in 87 non-traditional DoD vendors, including 43 contracting with DoD for the first time.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: DARPA ERI

01-29-2019

DARPA ERI stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Electronics Resurgence Initiative. This tongue-twisting acronym is the latest Department of Defense (DoD) effort to catch up and surpass world semiconductor technology for the secure IC chips needed by advanced defense electronics systems.

View Story
Back

2018

Defense Speak Interpreted: PERM—Pb-free Electronics Risk Management

12-18-2018

In this column, we explore PERM—the Pb-free Electronics Risk Management Consortium. No, the group members do not all have curly hair! The name was chosen around 2008 by a group of engineers from aerospace, defense, and harsh environment (ADHE) organizations.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Defense Electronic Supply Chain Issues

10-18-2018

On October 5, 2018, the Department of Defense (DoD) highlighted issues with the release of the 146-page report “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States” from President Donald J. Trump

View Story
Copyright © 2022 I-Connect007 | IPC Publishing Group Inc. All rights reserved.