Matteo Genna, CTO of SSL discusses latest projects.

Posted on Aug 30, 2016

Space Tech Expo USA speaks with Matteo Genna, CTO of Space Systems Loral, about their current aims and projects.

Dr. Matteo Genna is the Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Product Strategy and Development at SSL, where is he is responsible for advancing SSL’s capabilities in both its core communications satellite market and its growth market, which includes innovations in robotics, small satellites, and advanced systems for space infrastructure and exploration.

Dr. Genna has been with SSL for more than 20 years. Before being named to his current position, he was the Vice President of Mission Assurance and Chief Engineer. In this role, he was responsible for ensuring that spacecraft design and performance met customer requirements and stringent SSL standards. Prior to this, he was the Director of Spacecraft systems, and has also been responsible for developing satellite design concepts and hosted payload accommodations.

Dr. Genna also worked for thirteen years in various Systems Engineering roles, where he contributed to advancing the design of SSL’s highly successful 1300 satellite platform through innovations ranging from avionics to electric orbit raising, keeping the 1300 at the forefront of today’s technology. 

Dr. Genna earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from the University of California, San Diego and he earned his Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley.

Tell us a little bit about SSL.

SSL is a leading provider of commercial satellites and innovative space systems, and has built more commercial GEO satellites currently on orbit than any other manufacturer. We are partnering with Terra Bella on its constellation of SkySat Earth observation satellites, one of which is in orbit and four additional will launch in September.  The four satellites were manufactured in our dedicated manufacturing facility for small satellites that is located near our main Palo Alto, CA campus. SSL also helps drive innovation in small satellites and vehicles that go beyond earth orbit. 

We are also working to incorporate innovations that will support next generation space missions, including robotics, optical communications, small satellites, hosted payloads, high power solar electric propulsion systems, Q/V-band communications capability and advanced solar array design that lowers mass and simplifies the mechanics for high power systems.

How is SSL helping to enable space exploration and access to space?

The Payload Orbital Delivery System (PODS)
enables SSL GEO ComSats to transport and
dispense small satellite payloads near GEO.
Image: SSL

Working with DARPA we developed a capability called Payload Orbital Delivery System (PODS) that enables our GEO ComSats to transport and dispense up to 100-kg class small satellite payloads near GEO. This capability provides a very cost effective way to deliver small spacecraft to GEO orbit and it can also be used for tools, replacement units, upgraded payloads, and equipment needed for exploration missions. Our first PODS mission is scheduled for launch in 2017.

As part of NASA’s NextSTEP Ixion Initiative Team, SSL will help to evaluate the conversion of rocket upper stages into space habitats for humans. Working together with NanoRacks and ULA, we proposed to demonstrate this concept via attachment of the upper stage to the International Space Station in low Earth orbit. After being proven in LEO, the concept could be used to create deep space habitats and help to enable human space exploration. 

As part of NASA’s NextSTEP Ixion
Initiative Team, SSL will help to
evaluate the conversion of rocket
upper stages into space habitats
for humans. Image: SSL

How is SSL using robotics in space?

SSL is the only manufacturer with the ability to build on robotics technologies that were proven on the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and the Mars lander and rovers, and to fully integrate that technology with our world leading communications satellite platform.

SSL’s robotics technologies have served a wide variety of missions. Our robotic arms have been used on all of the Mars landers and rovers.  They have also been used on DARPA’s Orbital Express mission, where our robotic arm demonstrated autonomous capture, berthing, and transfer of hardware to a free-flying client satellite.  Our robotic arms were used in assembling the International Space Station, and they continue to be used today to inspect and repair the space station, as well as capture and berth visiting vehicles.

Dragonfly robotic satellite assembly on-orbit.
Image: SSL

Currently we are working with DARPA and NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) to develop the technology for a satellite to robotically self-assemble in orbit. This program, called Dragonfly, will pave the way to greater flexibility for both commercial and government customers.

The Dragonfly system will enable satellite operators to launch larger and more powerful satellites that otherwise could not fit in today’s launch vehicle fairings. When furnished with a Dragonfly robotic arm, a satellite can be launched with antenna reflectors stowed very efficiently and once it reaches its orbital location it can mount the reflectors in place.

A robotic arm on board opens the potential for operators to modify and upgrade payload equipment in orbit, to change and adjust payloads years into the mission life and to accommodate technology advances and changing requirements. Dragonfly is scheduled for a ground demonstration by 2018.

What are some of the missions you are involved in today?

As the industrial partner for a project in the
running to be NASA’s next Discovery mission,
SSL’s SEP-enabled chassis would deliver the
science payload to the massive Psyche asteroid
in the main asteroid belt. Image: SSL

SSL is participating as the industrial partner for a project in the running to be NASA’s next Discovery mission. We are working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Arizona State University to propose a mission to Psyche, a massive asteroid made of iron and nickel, which is believed to be the only place in the solar system where a metal planetary core can be studied. As the industrial partner, our role in this mission is to provide the solar electric propulsion (SEP) enabled chassis that will get the payload to Psyche, which is in the main asteroid belt.

The project is unique in that by extracting Psyche’s SEP system from SSL’s commercial product line, SSL can provide NASA with a low cost and highly reliable deep space transportation system with a Firm Fixed Price agreed on in advance. The elimination of the large, complex radio frequency payload from our standard electric propulsion enabled commercial spacecraft actually simplifies the design, which is fully compatible with the environmental requirements of deep space.

We are also working with JPL on first phase design studies for a spacecraft that can travel to an asteroid and robotically excavate and capture a boulder from the surface of an asteroid and redirect it into a lunar orbit to prepare it for a visit by astronauts in the 2020’s. Called the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM), one of the goals of the mission is to demonstrate the use of a solar electric propulsion based spacecraft to maneuver large payloads as a proving ground for future human spaceflight to Mars. SSL has many years of experience with high power solar electric propulsion with our first system launched in 2004.  

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