ARGO US

ARGO 1.0 is an innovative Multicamera Star Tracker targeting minisats. Its value proposition is the capability to guarantee high accuracy, robustness and flexibility, including a smart in-flight autocalibration of both camera model and camera relative attitude, with a price affordable for the SmallSats market. With respect to other star trackers, ARGO improves the attitude measurement accuracy, the admissible working conditions and the system robustness and autonomy, it simplifies hardware requirements and opens the way for gyroless and single sensor AOCS concepts.
The main ARGO innovation and advantages are here below summarized.
1. Maximum Sky Coverage. The cameras can be installed wherever on the vehicle it is more convenient for obtaining a good sky coverage, which are even very far away from each other.
2. High accuracy & Robustness over time. Since both camera calibration model parameters and camera relative attitude are measured and continuously updated on board, it does not hold anymore the requirement that the above parameters have to be strictly invariant and stable for the whole star tracker life.
3. Flexibility/ Easiness of installation. Only a camera – to be defined as Master Camera – will have to be mounted connected in rigid and time invariant way with the payload, the attitude of which one wants to measure. The attitude of each other cameras is measured with respect to Master Camera and continuously on board updated. Then, all the other cameras can be mounted without having to comply with any special rigidity and invariability constraints of their attitude with respect to the payload.

Developed by:

EICAS Automazione S.p.A

Where did the project idea come from?

The Company works in the sector since the foundation (1984), developing original algorithms and software for autonomous attitude determination from star measurements for & with large players and Agencies. The original method of autocalibration was conceived by EICAS and published on 2011 on a scientific paper presented at SAE Intenation of Toulouse (Caporaletti, G., “Innovative Algorithm for Spacecraft Attitude Determination,” SAE Int. J. Aerosp. 4(2):998-1006, 2011, doi:10.4271/2011-01-2616. http://papers.sae.org/2011-01-2616/). Then a feasibility study was performed, for proving the applicability of the method to low cost cameras. Finally the development of the first space prototype . named ARGO 1.0 – was performed with the funding support of a SME Instrument Phase 2 H2020 Project. ARGO 1.0 at present is at TRL8 and will reach the TRL9 through a dedicated in orbit demonstration.
The company is now planning its entrance in the European market for 2020. A detailed business and investment plans has been developed, including human resources hiring, custom equipments to be purchased and manufacturing facilities aiming to deliver high-quality products, in competition with the main European manufacturers of star trackers.EICAS plans for accessing the New Space Market with ARGO are to effectively enter at world-wide level within 2023.
Given the ARGO 1.0 peculiar features, considered ‘disruptive’ by the European Commission, EICAS is greatly interested in assessing the viability of the entrance of ARGO in the US market. In fact, the market size of SmallSats is growing in the years and the large part of the demand is concentrated in the US.

Why did you select that specific target country?

In view of the ARGO exploitation plans, the product entrance on the US market definitely fits very well with EICAS’s strategy. With the market concentrated at 50% in the US, EICAS’s ambition is definitely more likely to become a reality with and active and timely presence of ARGO technology in the United States of America.
Furthermore, US market is very difficult to address, especially for foreign countries: the Technical/Quality Standards for the products are different from the European ones, based on the European Cooperation Space Standards approved by ESA. This aspect may affect the Star Tracker’s requirements from the Customers and thus generate the need for a partial technology re-design. In addition, different requirements related to the testing procedure might exist, so-called Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) procedures.
Finally, there are severe regulations for Import of Technology and Product in the USA and for Export from Europe, such as the Regulation about the Dual-Use 428/2009.

Who are your partners in the target country?

OPTEC America Inc. is a US-based company acting as the exclusive distributor onto US territory for OPTEC S.p.A., an Italian SME with relevant skill in optical systems design and manufacturing, having the aim to deal directly with US customers for special needs and face to face meeting. OPTEC America Inc. is also in charge of managing US representatives’ network and planning US exhibitions.
The company staff has been pursuing since 2015 an active business development campaign in the US-market, gathering a considerable knowledge of USA regulatory landscape.
The company roadmap foresees to expand its portfolio with new products, to reach a large addressable US market, engaging local Space Industry important players, as satellite manufacturers and large system integrators. The Management has been engaged in business development activities since 2013, aiming to participate to several US Exhibitions such as IAC.
Furthermore, in order to sustain the long term strategy, the company is ready to transfer in-loco the AIT process, based on a customer demand such to justify the investment in US facilities.
High performance star trackers are high-tech optoelectronic complex systems, able to offer a ‘quality reputation’ not only to the manufacturers but also to the distributors. Having a high-quality star tracker with proven flight heritage in the Company Product Portfolio can provide benefits to OPTEC America Inc. Furthermore, star trackers are mandatory on a large fraction of SmallSat platforms, especially on missions/constellation for Earth Observation or Optical Telecommunication. The complementariness between products in the same catalogue can boost the sales and also give access to new customers, creating opportunities for partnership creations.

What is your long term vision for your company working in your chosen partner country?

EICAS medium term goal is to be awarded a contract for the development of Star Trackers for a SmallSat constellation. This kind of market is mainly concentrated in the U.S.A. The advantages to be explored are the possibility to achieve economies of scales in HW procurement and product assembly with increase of profitability margins. In the medium-long terms, EICAS envisions its products to be scaled in quality and HW reliability for targeting also Large System Integrators and Geostationary Orbit/Medium Earth Orbit platforms. The presence in the US Market shall be able to capture other business opportunities dealing with EICAS competences in space-related fields (for instance, control system design, optical payload design).

What impact do you believe INNOWWIDE will have on your company?

EICAS is determined both to contact as much as many potential customers and to explore their needs, eventually moving towards new product versions. In fact, customers can bring ideas and feedbacks for further ARGO innovation. The advantages to be explored are the possibility to achieve economies of scales in HW procurement and product assembly with increase of profitability margins.
Furthermore, to target US market, a profound knowledge of the customer needs is required at local level, not only related to technical standards but also in relation to regulatory (import and export) and administrative aspects. This is another important goal.
The final goal is to define a technology adaption plan to better fit ARGO Star Trackers to the need of our potential customers. In fact, the results of the market analysis are likely to provide as a feedback the needed technology adaptation required in order to make the product suitable for the US customers. For instance some HW components may be not admissible in the US or some customers’ needs are not currently satisfied by the current ARGO product. In such a case, the partners will have to set-up suitable R&D&I Projects to integrate and improve the product features in that sense.

Can you offer any advice or guidance to others looking to apply for INNOWWIDE grants?

EICAS believes that INNOWWIDE represents a significant opportunity for European SME for several reasons:
1. The structure of the project drives the Company Team to structure a proper market survey, with primary and secondary research, but also taking into account relevant factors such as Intellectual Property Right. This is not so common for SME but it is nonetheless very useful.
2. It also encourages finding partners for the commercial exploitation in the target market. It opens the company staff to new requirements and ways of doing business.
To others looking to apply for INNOWWIDE grants we could suggest paying a considerable attention in the selection of the right partners, to have several interactions (Skype calls, conferences or direct meetings) before the submission of the proposal, in order to understand synergies and to properly structure a WorkPlan. Established networks are fundamental for an effective market analysis.

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