2019.B.2.3. The Frontier Radio Virtual Radio: A Small, Powerful, and Reliable Platform for Communications and More


Michael O’Neill (1)

  1. JHU APL, U.S.A.




small sats, rf, communications, telecom, high reliability


High-reliability and long mission durations are not typically associated with small sats and cubesats, however these requirements pervade the spectrum of mission classes and available resources. Deep-space exploration in particular presents a plethora of unique and fascinating destinations that require many years of travel and challenging radiation environments. Due to the number of potential targets for exploration, agile, relatively low-cost platforms are attractive to sponsors. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s (JHU APL) Space Exploration Sector has developed a powerful, highly robust software-defined radio (SDR) in a small form factor that leverages decades of research and development. The Frontier Radio platform and its predecessors enable many critical missions including NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond, the Van Allen Probes in Earth’s radiation belts, Parker Solar Probe travelling through the sun’s corona, and Europa Clipper in the extreme radiation environment surrounding Jupiter and its moon Europa. The Frontier Radio Virtual Radio (FR VR) adapts this proven architecture into a powerful, efficient, reprogrammable design without compromising reliability. Based around a single-board computer (SBC) and a multi-channel, hardware-reconfigurable RF card (RFC) supporting UHF through X-band, this hardware configuration is smaller and more adaptable than current generation. With modular blocks in hardware, firmware, and software, it is well situated for faster development cycles and limited non-recurring engineering. In addition to supporting communications, navigation, and radio science, they platform’s key feature is the SBC’s ability to provide all spacecraft processing needs beyond just radio operations creating immense savings in size, weight, and power (SWaP). This paper presents an overview of the FR VR and its development to date.


  • Download slides in PDF format here (<3 MB)


  • Download paper in PDF format here (<1 MB)

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