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Composite Structures | SmallSats | Mission Engineering

Mission Engineering

As we define it, mission (and systems) engineering is the process that takes a set of broad objectives and constraints and then proceeds to define an affordable space system to meet them. SSD can support the entire space mission analysis and design process. and can also provide support in more specific areas such as:


  • Constellation design and management
  • Orbit design and selection
  • Spacecraft bus conceptual design
  • Ground system conceptual design
  • Launch vehicle selection and spacecraft/launch vehicle integration
  • Concept of operation development
  • Space mission cost modeling
  • Cost and Risk reduction studies


Microcosm has extensive experience in supporting GPS mission and system engineering activities, including a current Phase I SBIR contract with the U.S. Air Force entitled “Flexible, Expandable Architecture for Next Generation GPS.” In the current program, Microcosm proposes a new GPS architecture that is both flexible and expandable to be able to adapt to advancing technology and changing needs, such as the need to work in the presence of man-made interference, challenging terrain, or urban canyons. Combining the potential for extensive on-board and user-equipment processing, asymmetric coverage, spot beams for local signal enhancement, and the intelligent use of external information (as done with smartphones), the system can provide:

  • Substantial reduction in sustainment cost
  • Enhanced signal security
  • Greater robustness
  • Reduced time to first fix (TTFF)
  • Enhanced accuracy
  • Enhanced performance in “urban canyons”
  • Reduced jammer susceptibility

In addition, the system can be easily modified or expanded to meet evolving needs and capabilities. Phase I will quantify the expected cost and performance and create an implementation plan for creating “GPS for the 21st century.”

3 years prior to the first GPS Block IIR satellite being launched, Microcosm carried out a study for the GPS program office at Los Angeles Air Force Base called “GPS Utility Analysis and System Acquisition Inputs.

The scope of this activity included a review of the GPS system specification, acquisition plan, and mission objectives with the principal goal of determining how to achieve substantial cost reductions in the acquisition of the GPS follow-on. The principal conclusion of that study was that the goal of the GPS system should be to deliver an appropriate navigation signal at the surface of the Earth with the specified availability, integrity, and survivability at the lowest possible cost. Changes in the system are possible that should permit significantly reduced annual cost.

Microcosm continues to pursue options for creating a more reliable, lower cost GPS system architecture that will serve the evolving needs of the warfighter well into the 21st century.

Orbits and Coverage

Calculating the orbit of a spacecraft is often computationally complex, but conceptually simple— what is the path of the spacecraft through space? The more complex part is choosing the orbit that we want to use for the spacecraft or constellation. The process involves a number of considerations— such as launch, performance, coverage, and the environment— that have a major impact on mission cost and performance. Microcosm has proposed orbits that provide much better coverage than the typical Sun synchronous orbit,(1) orbits that eliminate the growing problem of orbital debris, (2) and has literally written the book on orbit and constellation design.(3) We would be pleased to work with you on ways to select orbits for your mission that provide the highest utility at the lowest cost

1 Wertz, J. R., Microcosm Inc., “Coverage, Responsiveness, and Accessibility for Various ‘Responsive Orbits’,” 3rd AIAA Responsive Space Conference, Los Angeles, CA. Apr. 25–28, 2005.

2 Wertz, J.R., N. Sarzi-Amade, A. Shao, C. Taylor, and R. Van Allen, Microcosm Inc., “Moderately Elliptical Very Low Orbits (MEVLOs) as a Long-Term Solution to Orbital Debris,” AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites Logan, UT. Aug. 13–16, 2012.

3 Wertz, James R., Hans Meissinger, Lauri K. Newman, Geoffrey N. Smit, Mission Geometry: Orbit and Constellation Design and Management, Microcosm Press, Segundo, CA 2001, 934 p.