“We are where we are through the mid 2020s,” Shelton says. But a successful field of small launchers could allow for the use of smaller, cheaper satellites to either augment missions now handled by large, sometimes $1 billion spacecraft, or, eventually, supplant old architectures.
Shelton says that he thinks there is a nirvana of sorts to be found in balancing requirements of affordability, resilience and capability in the next generation of space systems.
“I think it is achievable. I don’t think it is unobtanium,” he says of a balance among these factors. “There is less complexity. There is certainly survival in numbers. And there are economic advantages to going to less complex and smaller satellites [and] furthering the use of commercial buses instead of tailoring each bus to the design of the payload.”
One candidate program for such a smaller, more disaggregated architecture is the next-generation Air Force weather satellite. “I’m going to be a very demanding task master on the weather satellite,” Shelton says. “It has got to stay small.”