AMP SoCal Event Features Top CubeSat and Small Satellite Pioneers

The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership for Southern California (AMP SoCal) is exhibiting at Space Tech Expo USA. It works to strengthen the industrial ecosystem for Southern California aerospace and defense manufacturers and their supply chains. AMP SoCal is committed to making its companies the most productive and efficient in the world. Here, AMP SoCal's Emily Tjaden Sylvester explores satellite development following AMP SoCal's recent Innovation Forum Series in Santa Monica, CA.

The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership for Southern California (AMP SoCal) featured the rapidly growing aerospace sector of small satellites (satellites under 500kg) as part of its Innovation Forum Series. On November 18, attendees were invited to listen and interact with two panels about the next wave of satellite research and development. These quarterly events hosted by AMP SoCal are designed to connect small and medium manufacturing businesses with federal funding opportunities and cutting-edge aerospace technology.


Small satellites are nothing new. Sputnik 1 was the size of a beach ball and weighed only 134 pounds. But a lot has changed since 1957. The CubeSat standard was developed in 1999 by Dr Jordi Puig-Suari of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and Professor Bob Twiggs of Stanford University. This miniature, extra-terrestrial instrument is a roughly 10 centimeter cube and weighs less than three pounds. Often employing off-the-shelf parts and technology, it is a template that provides endless adaptations and is continuously evolving, thanks in large part to research at universities in the Southern California region. Its small size allows it to easily hitch a ride on space-bound payloads and pack multiple satellites in one deployment. CubeSats have transformed the industry by making spaceflight and extra-atmospheric observations more affordable and accessible to businesses, universities, and researchers.

Dr Puig-Suari joined David Barnhart, professor at the USC Astronautical Engineering department and director/co-founder of the USC Space Engineering Research Center, as guest speakers on the AMP SoCal panel entitled ‘Current University Research in Small Satellites’. Both spoke of the necessary departure from traditional aerospace engineering and processes that had to occur in order to advance the field within small satellites. The willingness of students to embrace risk and experiment, even in the face of failure, has helped advance satellite technology.

The deployment of small satellites, and especially CubeSats, has increased exponentially in recent years. More than 400 CubeSats have been placed in orbit with many more planned. But with such growth, there is increased demand for engineers and workers with a relevant technical background. “The numbers need to grow,” said Dr Puig-Suari when asked if there would be an impending shortage of qualified graduates. 

ampsocalCal Poly, USC and UCLA are among the Southern California universities with programs that are actively working within the satellite industry, many times in partnership with nearby commercial enterprises. It is largely due to this cluster of talent and aerospace companies that Simon Halpern founded his plasma thruster company, Phase Four, in El Segundo. Halpern spoke alongside Bryan Welsch, program manager within Phantom Works at Boeing’s small satellite development in Huntington Beach, on the ‘Satellite Industry Innovation Panel’. Southern California has long been a focal point of aerospace innovation and development, so it’s no surprise that the tradition continues in new and exciting ways. 

AMP SoCal collaborates with organizations in both public and private sectors, across government, academia, and industry, to strengthen the region’s aerospace and defense manufacturing economy. Led by the Price School-USC Center for Economic Development, in partnership with the city of Los Angeles and more than 100 supporting organizations, AMP SoCal focuses on the southernmost 10 counties in California. The region forms one of the initial 12 federal ‘Manufacturing Community’ designations from the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership initiative. In addition to leveraging the strength of its partnership, AMP SoCal also leads a number of initiatives aimed at benefiting the region’s industry – which includes the Innovation Forum Series. Each of the Innovation Forum presentations are recorded and made available to the public on the AMP SoCal website. 

Visit to learn more about AMP SoCal, see upcoming events, or view past Innovation Forums. 

AMP SoCal will be exhibiting at Space Tech Expo USA 2017 in booth 2001