Dr. Carl Kirkconnell, CEO
The global space community is in accord that stimulating Low Earth orbit’s (LEO) economy is the next big step in our expansion into our solar system and beyond. The concept of New Space (commercialization of the space sector) is thus swiftly gaining momentum, with private actors playing an increasingly prominent role in tapping the commercial potential of LEO. On the verge of this paradigm shift, the focus of the space sector has started pivoting toward revising the cost-risk analysis of LEO satellite applications. By bringing down the costs of the mission elements, including sensor payload, satellite, launch vehicle, and ground segments, state and private actors are vying to make the LEO commercial initiatives viable today.
However, what stands between these players and their intent to avail low-cost access to LEO is their conventional approach to space missions. Many LEO systems, such as science experiments, proof of concept missions, commercial applications, etc., do not necessitate top-of-the-line Class A hardware like long-life, strategic GEO systems. Even for critical missions, system reliability can be met through the inherent resiliency of the constellation as opposed to extreme reliability requirements on each satellite. “The legacy prime defense contractors and their government customers understand the significance of rebalancing the cost-risk equation for LEO satellite applications. But they can’t seem to keep themselves from imposing Class A-like thinking on Class D programs,” says Dr. Carl Kirkconnell, an aerospace and defense expert and the president of West Coast Solutions (WCS). And that’s where his company comes into the picture. WCS is among the bunch of inventive players that are changing the game in space tech by driving a fresh wave of innovation with their leading-edge offerings for small satellites (smallsat).
Within six years of its inception, WCS has already carved a niche for itself as a go-to engineering design and prototype company in the fields of cryogenics, power electronics, and alternative energy. Leveraging its extensive technical expertise in these fields, the company has been putting forth state-of-the-art space tech solutions for smallsats. In that regard, the company has indeed launched a unique and impressive portfolio of products, which are making great strides in the New Space market.
Presenting a Novel Era of Products for the New Space
WCS’s hybrid battery supercapacitor (HBS) presents a good case in point for WCS’s engineering efficacy. Interestingly, HBS has got an extremely high power density that can bring about a whole new generation of high-power payloads on smallsats. Its target applications include advanced propulsion technologies, laser communication, high data rate downlink transmitters, large array infrared sensors, and directed energy weapons. Kirkconnell enthuses that “HBS’s flight design prototype is going to enter the environmental testing in the fall of this year.”
Micro Cryocooler Control Electronics for Tactical Space (MCCE-TS), developed in collaboration with Creare LLC, is another testament to the company’s potency in the market. Notably, MCCE-TS is also the first-of-its-kind electronics optimized for the New Space. Cryocooler control electronics were traditionally designed as radiation-hardened hardware with high space electronic component costs, making them exorbitant for the targeted cost-sensitive LEO satellite applications. As opposed to that, MCCE-TS is designed as radiation-tolerant. This characteristic makes MCCE-TS a lot less expensive and yet perfectly adequate for most LEO satellite applications. “In a market abundant with high-cost over-designed hardware, MCCE-TS strikes the right balance between cost and risk, making it an ideal space cryocooler electronics controller for smallsats,” adds Kirkconnell. With its first space launch scheduled for the Spring of 2022 with Hyperspectral Thermal Imager (HyTI) Satellite, MCCE-TS is all set to leave a benchmark in space cryogenics.
Amalgamating Technology with Experience
WCS puts forth this unique portfolio of products with a talented and multidisciplinary pool of aerospace and defense professionals who have decades of expertise under their belt. WCS’s senior staff consists of former principals and senior fellows from major aerospace corporations, allowing the company to match the proficiency of even the biggest names in the sphere. Adding to it an impressive crop of young talented engineers who bring in fresh perspectives, WCS has a team that is second to none in the domain. “It’s indeed this exciting mix of talented professionals that are propelling us ahead in the sector,” remarks Kirkconnell.
This versatility can be noticed in WCS’s organizational culture as well. Thanks to the team’s vast experience working in big corporations, WCS maintains a good rapport with its major clients like DoD, NASA, and prime defense contractors. “While we offer prime technical capabilities of the big players, we also bring the advantages of a small business to the table, such as effectiveness in cost, flexibility in innovation, and quickness in response,” notes Kirkconnell.
This dynamic nature is enabling WCS to lead the way in engineering design and prototyping today that can be reflected best through a recent client success story. A company recently approached WCS with a major impediment. The company had a fully qualified payload with some unique power requirements. The payload required a buffering power supply/power conditioner to become compatible with a standard spacecraft bus. The client, however, did not have any specifications about the solution, which made it a quite challenging task. “The client couldn’t provide us with any design requirements. We had to start from a blank page,” mentions Kirkconnell. Subsequently, the team at WCS spent a couple of months developing the requirements with the client. And once approved by the client, they implemented a design solution and delivered the flight unit for integration, all within 16 months. This instance only stands as a testament to WCS’s trailblazing engineering design and prototyping proficiencies.
Riding on the coattails of such competencies, WCS is swiftly becoming a luminary in the New Space market. Concurrently, the profound interest that the company has been garnering in space tech is invigorating them to broaden the horizon by catering to the complete electronic suite development and architecture of smallsats. “We are also looking forward to expanding to complete electronics suites, as well as perhaps helping define a new market for ‘affordable Class A’ space electronics hardware,” concludes Kirkconnell, mapping WCS’s trajectory.