This article describes market disruptions currently faced by the space industry which may not only upend current commercial assumptions, but herald significant changes in the way that space-borne infrastructure is architected and operated in future. The hypothesis is that market forces and technology trends point to a necessary focus on substantially more flexible multi-mission platforms hereafter. These SoftSats, differ over existing satellites as their operating parameters and air interfaces are soft coded (i.e. determined primarily by software) as opposed to hardwired as is prevalent in today’s hardware. In so doing, operators will gain access to resilient, agile platforms that will help protect their technology investment conveying to them greater market responsiveness over time. Moreover, the market will benefit as these innovations are expected to reduce space access costs through more standardization, enhanced flexibility, and system re-use.
A key enabler for SoftSats are new broadband data converters that, for the first time, promise direct Ka-band access eliminating intermediate frequency radio stages and delivering the hitherto impossible promise of RF softwarization to this critical spectral band. The engineering steps towards such complex broadband components are detailed along with initial results from the first two proof of concept designs evaluated under lab conditions. The conclusion is clear, the time is right to reassess architectural choices and prepare for Softsats. Production-worthy sample components will see the light of day in late 2021. Meanwhile current prototypes enable further experimental work to continue apace.