Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Military Space Technology

Air Force Extends Plug-and-Play Spacecraft 77

Posted by timothy
from the can-we-get-an-analogy-upgrade? dept.
coondoggie writes "Looking to build strategic satellites in days if need be, rather than months, the Air Force is pushing forward with what it calls plug-and-play spacecraft. This week it awarded a $500,000 order to Northrop Grumman to begin designing the plug-and-play spacecraft 'bus' which will offer standard interfaces for a variety of payload components, much like a laptop computer that immediately recognizes new hardware when it's plugged in, Northrop stated. The order was awarded under a contract that has a ceiling of $200 million."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Air Force Extends Plug-and-Play Spacecraft

Comments Filter:
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @01:11AM (#30341244) Homepage Journal

    They discuss having a standard power bus, and a tcp/ip LAN with something like a COTS router. So in fact its not plug and play like USB on a laptop it is plug and play like attaching your laptop to your LAN. It is exactly that.

    I expect it will have a hard coded configuration with static IP addresses though. DHCP is a single point of failure and I don't think the complexity is justified here.

    • by blueg3 (192743) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @01:22AM (#30341286)

      In the existing space PnP spec, the devices are autonomously numbered. In fact, the existing space PnP spec is designed to run over either USB or the SpaceWire bus.

      If you read the article, you'll note that the comparison with USB is that the devices provide other devices on the network with a description of the functions they support. So, the bus has multinode network communication over a single common protocol, power, autonomous numbering, and devices indicating their capabilities. That's USB, not IP.

    • Either I am way too far gone this evening, or there is something wrong with this article. The system that is described is existing tech from the 'AFRL,' a division of the U.S. Air Force. The contract is described like so:

      Northrop Grumman is expected at this point to deliver a study that will outline how the AFRL can reduce cost and develop future plug-and-play space systems.

      This does not equate to Northrop Grumman designing the next gen interface, it means they will be the consultants doing the position reviews on the AFRL personnel for the next downsizing, right? I bet those Northrop G. folk like Michael Bolton... celebrate his entire body of work in fact

    • by lennier (44736)

      "Why is linux.conf.au in New Zealand? Did I miss a memo?"

      Yes. Please line up in an orderly fashion on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for assimilation into the Greater New Zealand Empire. Our trained keas and kakapos will be hovering nearby to assist you.

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @01:17AM (#30341270)

    Hapablap: Oh...not the Harrier! We've got a war tomorrow.
              Bob: [sees control panel with two buttons, STOP and FLY]
                        God bless the idiot-proof Air Force.

    He presses the FLY button, and the jet taxis forward into a ditch.
    Sideshow Bob switches to the Wright Brothers plane.

  • by siddesu (698447) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @01:19AM (#30341276)
    is what got the aliens beaten by a macintosh and a loser like jeff goldblum. compile everything in, disable all dynamic modules!
  • Plug and Pray... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheModelEskimo (968202) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @01:20AM (#30341282)
    ...never had so much meaning.
    • by kimvette (919543)

      Well, as long as they steer clear of Windows, they won't get a BSOD when trying to plug in any kind of scanner.

  • This week it awarded a $500,000 order to Northrop Grumman to begin designing the plug-and-play spacecraft "bus" ... The order was awarded under a contract that has a ceiling of $200 million.

    There is a pretty big difference between $500,000 and $200,000,000. So which is it Air Force?

    • by jamesh (87723)

      There is a pretty big difference between $500,000 and $200,000,000. So which is it Air Force?

      If the company you are contracting to estimates that a project is going to take somewhere between 0.5 million and 200 million, guess which of those two numbers is going to be more correct?

      • Speaking as someone with experience in defense contracting, some contracts actually come in far below their ceiling in terms of actual dollars expended. Of course, others go way over budget.
    • by NigelBeamenIII (986462) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @01:45AM (#30341360)
      It's a question of how government contracts are awarded. They typically will have at least two things for each contract: the amount of money on the contract and the contract ceiling. The amount on the contract is the amount the company actually has in their accounts to spend. the ceiling is more like a "credit limit" which says the maximum amount of money the AF *can* ever put on the contract. Hope that explanation helps some.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      My guess is that it's both.

      The government isn't going to give you $200 million up front. Most likely, it's $500k for the initial phase (whatever that may include) and possibly up to $200 million depending on progress/success.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by damburger (981828)
        AC scores a hit whilst everyone else is flailing around with tropes about how government contracts are always absurd. The USAF have been given 500k to "begin" the project - probably to determine its feasibility - stipulating that if it looks promising they will be awarded the rest over the next few years
        • the 500K is just the hello use this office and this lab with these interns part
          the other 19,500K is to actually get something done.

          (the "entertainment" and "stuff" gets paid for later)

    • by IrquiM (471313)

      And people wonder why the credit crunch started in the US?

      (No, this was not a comment directed towards the Air Force)

      • FOCLMAO - Thankyou for the morning laugh. The reality is the fact that the United States isn't backed by Gold or anything other then wishful thinking. That's why in hell the credit crunch has been waiting to smack us upside the head with a clue stick. Only problem is, we need a clue truck to run congress over before they get the message.

  • So to extend Plug-and-Play spacecraft, they're paying $500,000 for a really long extension cord?
  • Finally (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @01:46AM (#30341366) Homepage

    Not only do they need to do this with spacecraft and satellites, they need to do it with weapons systems across the board. Gun mounts, missile launchers, hard points, radar systems, everything. Let the separate military branches keep their identity and mission focus, but make sure all the hardware they're using works together.

    An effort long overdue and a good place to start.

    • Re:Finally (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nutria (679911) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @03:49AM (#30341766)

      they need to do it with weapons systems across the board.

      They do a lot of this already. That's what the Joint in JSTARS, JSF, JDAM, etc, etc means. Then there's the commonality of small arms, payroll systems, M1 tanks run on jet fuel, and so forth.

      However, there are lots of reasons why much of their material can not be common: sea-borne, air and ground equipment all have different "sturdiness" requirements, there are different RADAR frequencies for different tasks and that means different antennae, etc.

      A good example of why this sometimes can, but usually can't work was that when Robert McNamara was SECDEF. He made all the branches use the same kind of gun and buy the same kind of boots, and that was great. But he also made them build a "Joint Strike Fighter" (the TFX, later named the F-111), which turned out to be way too heavy for carrier operations.

      • Sure the TFX was a turd. But the F-4 Phantom was originally a carrier borne fighter-bomber plane which ended up being used by all the services, so it can be done. One of the reasons the F-111 wasn't used (besides the many design problems from all the new technology they piled on it) was because the Navy said it was too heavy for a carrier aircraft as you said. Then they accepted the F-14 Tomcat which has about the same weight. The Navy asked for side-by-side seating for F-111 but then accepted in-line seati
        • by Ironsides (739422)
          Er. The F-111 loaded (instead of empty) is 25% heavier than the F-14 and that is before taking into account the necessary changes (weight increases) to the F-111 to make it capable of carrier take off and landing.
        • by Nutria (679911)

          But the F-4 Phantom was originally a carrier borne fighter-bomber

          You can always take the toughest plane and use it in less-demanding situations.

          But that doesn't make it even a semi-optimal choice in many situations. Take the F-16, for example: a great and nimble, cheap land-based fighter, which couldn't survive carrier landings.

          Note also that the F-15, F-16 & F-18 have a lot of commonality in their weapons and ordinance...

      • by lennier (44736)

        "sea-borne, air and ground equipment all have different "sturdiness" requirements"

        I read that as "studliness".

        Sorry. Carry on comparing inter-service barrel sizes.

  • I find it odd that he specifically mentions "laptop computer" as if other kinds of computers can't do that too.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I suspect the intent was to draw some sort of parallel between laptops and spacecraft... I suppose since a laptop is portable... and so is a spacecraft.

      Because a PC is much letter portable than a spacecraft...

  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @02:43AM (#30341576) Journal
    Could it be too much to ask, that this bus conform to an openly-specified standard, e.g., Wishbone [wikipedia.org]?

    I'm not saying it has to be Wishbone. I'm just thinking that it might be nice to avoid re-inventing the wheel. This could also have the side-effect of lowering the cost to the government (and the taxpayer who actually pays for it).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bertoelcon (1557907)

      Could it be too much to ask, that this bus conform to an openly-specified standard, e.g., Wishbone [wikipedia.org]?

      If it was a well known standard it would probably be known by the Air Force's enemies and they could use it against them. It would be nice to not reinvent the wheel, but I don't think the military puts that thought very high.

      • by damburger (981828)

        If it were a super secret new standard, then the Chinese could use human intelligence and plain old bribery to get the spec, and then you are in the same situation except you are convinced the enemy [i]doesn't[/i] know the specification and thus you've less incentive to keep on top of its security features.

        Why is that the idea of security through obscurity, which has been so discredited elsewhere, is still firmly entrenched in the military?

        • by damburger (981828)
          And once again, I forget which forum I am on in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps this is why I am not programming computers for the USAF :)
        • by lennier (44736)

          "and then you are in the same situation except you are convinced the enemy [i]doesn't[/i] know the specification"

          Unless the enemy doesn't know that you're only pretending to not know that they know what you know but they don't know that you know they know!

          It's the oldest rule in the book, 99.

      • by omz13 (882548)

        Could it be too much to ask, that this bus conform to an openly-specified standard, e.g., Wishbone [wikipedia.org]?

        If it was a well known standard it would probably be known by the Air Force's enemies and they could use it against them. It would be nice to not reinvent the wheel, but I don't think the military puts that thought very high.

        Instead of reinventing the wheel, per se, why don't they take a (not-so-secure or safe) open system, add a bit of hardness to it, so everybody benefits (apart from the enemies).

        • by systemeng (998953)
          I think that Enemies the air force considers for projects like this are taxpayers and congress. The only way the bus design is of interest to actual enemies (likely ignored in the analysis) IMHO is that it might work better than what they were going to use. Neither congress nor taxpayers are too keen on watching 200 million dollars get spent reinventing the wheel. If the system design is so bad that you have to hide it to make it "secure" then the design has already failed some important milestones.

          Spa
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ironsides (739422)
      Wishbone is a communications interface for CPUs. The AF is looking for a standard interface for discovery, cooperation, power, communication and a host of other things and it has to be capable of sufficient redundancy in a space environment. An "Analysis of Alternatives" (seeing if there is anything already out there), is a requirement prior to any program like this going forward. In other words, they already checked.
  • USB Analogy (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Maybe they should just use USB. I mean...it works, why spend another billion dollars to reinvent it?
    And they could always use those cheap chinese webcams on the next generation airplanes.

  • Universal Space Bus.

    Actually it'll be interesting to see where light peak goes...

    • If Newtons and foot-lbs is still an issue, imaging what's gonna happen when somebody gets high-speed and full-speed mixed up.

  • Why liken it to a laptop, when desktops have been using buses to allow major components to be easily changed for decades. Even apple products used to be able to do it (maybe some of them still can, I wouldn't know).

  • by Cochonou (576531) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @04:47AM (#30341942) Homepage
    If you want to know where you are coming from, a bus interface commonly used right now on satellites in U.S. and Europe is MIL-STD-1553B [obspm.fr]. This is basically a dual-redundant differential 1 Mb/s bus over a wire pair. There's a single bus controller which initiates all the transactions, and up to 31 remote terminals which respond to the bus controller.
    What is a bit surprising is that for military aircraft, current designs have been moving from 1553 to Firewire (which is plug and play). So that may suggest that Firewire would be unsuitable for satellites.
  • Half a billion for reinventing the wheel? I mean, we have USB for a long time already, how hard can it be to reimplement it in military harware?

    • by omz13 (882548)

      Half a billion for reinventing the wheel? I mean, we have USB for a long time already, how hard can it be to reimplement it in military harware?

      Quite hard. This is stuff that has to work in space, so it has to work all the time and for usually a longer timespan than originally intended... its not like back on the surface where if your cable/hub/whatever goes futz you can simply get a replacement from the local store and swap it.

  • Apollo module.

    Installing the software for your new Apollo module.

    Your new Apollo module is installed. You should restart your spaceship for the changes to take effect.
  • Is there a reason they don't just use usb or normal networking? Perhaps I'm just trivializing space technology, but what's the difference between space computers and home computers [besides the fact they use real-time operating systems]? Surely that just means the computers never go to sleep?

    I'm sure that technology already exists - so it just needs $200 Billion to test and make sure it works in space?

    • by Ironsides (739422)
      USB uses 5v and a maximum power limitation of 2.5w. Also, it doesn't support direct device to device communication and requires a host (i.e., the computer) in order to operate. It's also doesn't allow real time sending of data. The physical interface is also lacking for satellites in space. That tiny connector wouldn't make it into orbit before breaking. So, you need a new electrical, communications and physical interface. AKA a new standard. There is some reusability as they are using a TCP/IP router
  • Obviously lowering cost is a good thing, but not something the military is known for. I find it interesting that the big push in the military has been on for cheap and fast satellites (fast seems more important that cheap), since about 2005. That would be around the time the Chinese demonstrated their ability to kill space vehicles, and at the same time pollute the orbit with junk by doing it. It might also be needed in the case of things like solar flares that leave the military and critical civilian sats

  • Car companies have been developing car networks which would probably have similar requirements for satellites. Actuators and electrical control units are in cars and in satellites.

    FlexRay is currently under development. With a few modifications I'm sure it could be adapted to work in a satellite.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FlexRay [wikipedia.org]

The number of arguments is unimportant unless some of them are correct. -- Ralph Hartley

Working...