Benchmark Introduces First-Ever Autopilot For Satellites at SmallSat 2023

Benchmark Introduces First-Ever Autopilot For Satellites at SmallSat 2023

With operational small satellite constellations scaling fast, and regulatory controls for sustainability quickly emerging, Benchmark Space Systems has announced the commercial launch of the first-ever driver-assist control system capable of managing highly precise satellite maneuvers and travel through increasingly congested space.

The category-defining propulsion solution called SmartAIM (Smart Advanced In-Space Mobility) features an onboard software control solution embedded in Benchmark’s non-toxic chemical, electric, and hybrid propulsion systems. Having a more intelligent and integrated mobility solution extends the guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) capability of any spacecraft to offer unprecedented tiers of autonomous flight – ranging from assisted ‘cruise control’ for station keeping and payload pointing to full-blown maneuver planning and execution for collision avoidance. 

SmartAIM is now available in Benchmark’s common control system across product lines and will reduce operational costs and lead times associated with mission planning and system integration. 

Benchmark also announced a strategic partnership with Kayhan Space to integrate the company’s Pathfinder spaceflight safety service with the SmartAIM platform. Pathfinder’s capabilities for optimized maneuver planning and autonomous space traffic coordination provide a unique and complementary offering when paired with Benchmark’s SmartAIM propulsion solution. This alliance will ultimately drive the full value of SmartAIM for collision avoidance and sustainable space operations. Benchmark plans to add Kayhan and other SSA companies to its extensive network of partners with complementary technology and services.

Benchmark has designed, developed, and thoroughly tested its SmartAIM intelligent propulsion offering, in part with funding and R&D support from the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), and expects the first SmartAIM-assisted flights to launch in 2024. The cooperative effort among Benchmark’s commercial and government partners has focused on eliminating the laborious, iterative manual satellite control functions, which have become cost prohibitive and unmanageable for many operators as their constellations dramatically scale.

“The Low Earth Orbit ecosystem is not sustainable without driver assist technologies like SmartAIM. Benchmark is in full production mode on propulsion systems for several government and commercial missions. Operators are not just looking to Benchmark to provide propulsion hardware, but a full life cycle partnership and innovative bundled mobility solutions to maneuver safely and confidently through space,” explained Chris Carella, Chief Commercial Officer for Benchmark Space Systems. “Large constellations aren’t technically or economically feasible in today’s busy orbits if they’re being controlled with traditional manual and multi-step procedures. SmartAIM makes watching over constellations of dozens to hundreds of satellites far more manageable and sustainable. The operational equivalent of falling asleep at the wheel could lead to a Kessler scenario that wipes out a trillion-dollar global infrastructure.”

Benchmark’s SmartAIM intelligent guidance, navigation, and control solution runs on multiple streams of real-time data, from onboard sensors and data relays, that provide vivid situational awareness. The low-latency information feeds and onboard processing include the state of the propulsion system and satellite, where it’s been, where it’s headed, and efficient travel routes around potential issues or threats nearby or on the horizon.

“The game-changing benefits of having SmartAIM tightly integrated with Benchmark’s propulsion systems, the host spacecraft resources, and additional effectors, aids in scalability, performance efficiency and sustainability, and operator peace of mind,” outlined Jeff Gibson, Benchmark’s Head of Engineering and a member of its experienced GNC team, with the lunar lander, EVTOL, and guided munitions development among its storied successes.

“Operators can lean on Benchmark’s unrivaled propulsion expertise and not get bogged down with the technical details needed for scalable mobility operations in space,” Gibson added. “The efficiency of the driver-assist and autopilot modes enable operators to get a lot more mileage out of their propulsion systems – driving up mission sustainability while reducing overhead.”

“The Kayhan Space mission is all about empowering satellite operators with the information and streamlined autonomous capabilities they need to safely and efficiently navigate through an increasingly congested space environment,” said Siamak Hesar, Co-Founder and CEO of Kayhan Space. “We are thrilled to partner with Benchmark Space Systems and integrate with their SmartAIM intelligent propulsion solution to maximize safe and sustainable space operations.”  

The company expects the first SmartAIM systems to launch next year, beginning with collision avoidance and station-keeping capabilities in space. The company’s technology roadmap includes next-generation features, which include advanced operator-assist and autopilot functions, in the late 2024 through 2025 timeframe.

Established propulsion providers are at an advantage when developing GNC capabilities. The integration goes beyond hypotheticals and is designed with the detailed specificities of existing avionics and propulsion systems for maximum optimization. By working in unison with additional effectors like momentum wheels, torque rods, and ACS thrusters – the GNC framework is designed for optimizing each maneuver, whether that be for power conditions, fuel preservation, or speed.  

The company is laser-focused on providing non-toxic chemical, electric, and hybrid propulsion systems capable of enabling in-space mobility and the emerging space economy. Benchmark is currently fulfilling contracts for dozens of its new Xantus electric metal plasma thrusters (MPTs), with some on the verge of playing a key role in upcoming in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM) satellite docking demonstration missions. 

The company is also producing hundreds of its 2N Lynx bi-propellant (HTP + fuel) thrusters this year to meet the increasing demand for low Earth orbit (LEO) and cislunar missions. The intelligent maneuver control enabled by SmartAIM is being considered by a growing number of missions and operators deploying Benchmark thrusters and propulsion systems.

Click here to learn about Thrusters from Benchmark Space Systems.

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Publisher: SatNow

GNSS Constellations - A list of all GNSS satellites by constellations


Satellite NameOrbit Date
BeiDou-3 G4Geostationary Orbit (GEO)17 May, 2023
BeiDou-3 G2Geostationary Orbit (GEO)09 Mar, 2020
Compass-IGSO7Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)09 Feb, 2020
BeiDou-3 M19Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M20Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M21Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M22Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 I3Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M23Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019
BeiDou-3 M24Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019


Satellite NameOrbit Date
GSAT0223MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0224MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0219MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0220MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0221MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0222MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0215MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0216MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0217MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0218MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Kosmos 2569--07 Aug, 2023
Kosmos 2564--28 Nov, 2022
Kosmos 2559--10 Oct, 2022
Kosmos 2557--07 Jul, 2022
Kosmos 2547--25 Oct, 2020
Kosmos 2545--16 Mar, 2020
Kosmos 2544--11 Dec, 2019
Kosmos 2534--27 May, 2019
Kosmos 2529--03 Nov, 2018
Kosmos 2527--16 Jun, 2018


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Navstar 82Medium Earth Orbit19 Jan, 2023
Navstar 81Medium Earth Orbit17 Jun, 2021
Navstar 78Medium Earth Orbit22 Aug, 2019
Navstar 77Medium Earth Orbit23 Dec, 2018
Navstar 76Medium Earth Orbit05 Feb, 2016
Navstar 75Medium Earth Orbit31 Oct, 2015
Navstar 74Medium Earth Orbit15 Jul, 2015
Navstar 73Medium Earth Orbit25 Mar, 2015
Navstar 72Medium Earth Orbit29 Oct, 2014
Navstar 71Medium Earth Orbit02 Aug, 2014


Satellite NameOrbit Date
NVS-01Geostationary Orbit (GEO)29 May, 2023
IRNSS-1IInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)12 Apr, 2018
IRNSS-1HSub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (Sub-GTO)31 Aug, 2017
IRNSS-1GGeostationary Orbit (GEO)28 Apr, 2016
IRNSS-1FGeostationary Orbit (GEO)10 Mar, 2016
IRNSS-1EGeosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)20 Jan, 2016
IRNSS-1DInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)28 Mar, 2015
IRNSS-1CGeostationary Orbit (GEO)16 Oct, 2014
IRNSS-1BInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Apr, 2014
IRNSS-1AInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)01 Jul, 2013