U.S. Air Force Request for Information - Space Lego Project

Status Report From: Air Force Materiel Command
Posted: Saturday, August 9, 2003

General Information

  • Document Type: Special Notice
  • Solicitation Number: RFI-SpaceLego
  • Posted Date: Aug 07, 2003
  • Original Response Date: Sep 08, 2003
  • Original Archive Date: Sep 23, 2003
  • Current Archive Date:
  • Classification Code: 18 -- Space vehicles

Contracting Office Address

Department of the Air Force, Air Force Materiel Command, AFRL, Space Vehicles Directorate, Kirtland AFB, 2251 Maxwell Ave, Kirtland AFB, NM, 87117


The Air Force Research Laboratory, Space Vehicles Directorate is soliciting information and follow-up discussions to support research and development of concepts for rapid-prototyping of space systems based on a kind of space "LEGO_TM".

These "LEGOS", also referred to as "protosats", would be a (hopefully small) family of building blocks, from which any complex structure could be built, in this case the skeletal structures of spacecraft. The protosats could, for example, be panels that contain automatic mechanisms for engaging connections when two panels are placed together. The panels could contain wiring resources, computing blocks, etc. that when put together form a superset. The superset can be customized under software control (like FPGAs).

A collection of protosats combined to form an assembly are also referred to as "macrosats". In addition to "LEGO" or protosat primitives, we envision the possibility of attaching third party devices (e.g. payload elements) in a modular fashion to the skeleton. The devices could be payload elements, motors (such as reaction wheels, solar panel articulators, etc.) that fit into recesses (perhaps) on the lego panels and engage into the wiring systems.

We further seek to develop the feasibility of a concept referred to as "encapsulation". With encapsulation, we seek to build systems in a way that is both decentralized and self-organized. AFRL sponsored projects before in which this idea was demonstrated on the tabletop. In this example, five or more modules, each with processors, are connected together, forming a collective. When one module is removed, the "collective" senses the removal and adjusts accordingly. Temporary masters are "appointed", and if killed, new ones are assigned.

The closest things like this in the industry are smart sensor standards (like IEEE 1451.x, LonWorks, HART), which embody some of the "plug and play" principles we seek. Our motivation is to build systems in the most rapid time possible. It takes 5 years minimum and sometimes more than 15 to build a major space system, from thought to orbit.

We believe that under the right "framework", even the most complex systems could be assembled and fielded in phenomenally short timeframes, perhaps days.

Most of the barriers to this goal are: (1) wiring harnesses, (2) software, (3) human fallibility, and (4) closed, proprietary "standards".

By using configurable wiring harnesses, it could be possible to eliminate the need to fabricate them as custom assemblies. We would instead connect "LEGOs" with built-in reconfigurable wiring harnesses (a whole separate discussion), and configure them on the spot. It is our hope that somehow "encapsulation" might eventually eliminate the need for centralized custom flight software. Finally, self-organizing interfaces could negotiate the various elements of a system as it is being assembled, while serving as an open systems scheme to overcome closed approaches.

AFRL is considering funding research in this specific technology area and is attempting to gauge industry / academic interest and capability. Responses should be sent to: Air Force Research Laboratory/VSSE, Attn: Space Lego Project, 3550 Aberdeen Ave SE, Kirtland AFB, NM 87117-5776.

Written and e-mailed responses are acceptable. E-mail information to

The information can be in the form of white papers, presentations, or proposals. This industry survey does not obligate the government in any manner for any future acquisitions. This is not a notice of intent to contract. The government does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this request for information or otherwise pay for information solicited.

Qualified participants are invited to submit their interests and capability in writing. Only detailed written or e-mail responses, received within in thirty (30) days after the publication of this announcement will be reviewed. Information received will be considered solely for the purpose of determining whether or not to pursue future research effort based on responses to this notice.

Original Point of Contact

Jayne Faris, Contracting Officer, Phone 505 846 5935, Fax 505 846 7049, Email - Jayne Faris, Contracting Officer, Phone 505 846 5935, Fax 505 846 7049, Email

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