Tag Archive for: Cubesat

The UK Space Agency is providing £1.2 million in funding to Horizon Technologies for the launch of a replacement satellite, Amber Phoenix, scheduled for mid-2024. Horizon Technologies lost its previous satellite, Amber IOD-3, when a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket failed during a launch attempt in January. Amber Phoenix is a 6U cubesat designed to scan radio frequencies from ships seeking to evade detection. AAC Clyde Space is manufacturing the satellite, while the launch provider has not yet been confirmed. Horizon Technologies, which specializes in maritime surveillance, will provide the remaining funds for the satellite program.

The UK government’s funding for this satellite replacement project highlights the growing importance of satellite technology for national security and maritime surveillance. In an era of increasing global connectivity and data exchange, monitoring radio frequencies from ships and other sources has become a crucial tool for governments and agencies seeking to safeguard their national interests.

This development also showcases the value of satellite technology and cubesats in particular for security and defense applications. These small, cost-effective satellites are gaining more recognition as they provide flexible and accessible solutions for various space missions. The focus on replacing a lost satellite with a new and improved version underscores the resilience of space technology, where failures are often viewed as opportunities to learn and innovate.

he challenges Horizon Technologies faced with its initial satellite launch plans highlight the complexities and uncertainties associated with space missions. Factors such as pandemic-related delays, launch provider issues, and other logistical challenges can significantly impact the timing of satellite projects. This is especially true for smaller companies and startups entering the space industry.

The grant from the UK Space Agency, in this case, has played a crucial role in allowing Horizon Technologies to overcome these hurdles and continue its expansion into space-based services. As space technologies become increasingly important for national security, surveillance, and other applications, such funding and support from government agencies can make a significant difference for private enterprises.

Horizon Technologies’ decision to replace the lost Amber IOD-3 satellite underscores the strategic importance of maintaining and enhancing space assets. These assets play a vital role in modern surveillance, telecommunications, and environmental monitoring, making it essential to have contingency plans and resources to address any potential setbacks.

Horizon Technologies’ ambitious plans for its Amber constellation demonstrate the increasing role of small satellites in addressing security and surveillance challenges. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Enhanced Maritime Security: The Amber constellation is designed to enhance maritime security by providing real-time radio frequency (RF) data. This can help detect illegal activities such as piracy, smuggling, and other threats to maritime security. The UK. Royal Navy’s involvement highlights the potential of space-based solutions in addressing security concerns in a broader context.
  2. Global Coverage and Rapid Data: With plans to deploy over 20 Amber payloads in low Earth orbit, Horizon aims to offer worldwide RF data with a latency of just 30 minutes. This near-real-time data can significantly improve the ability to respond to security threats and challenges in the maritime domain.
  3. Government and Commercial Opportunities: Horizon Technologies intends to market its space-based detection services to other governments and commercial customers. This highlights the commercial potential of satellite-based solutions for addressing security and surveillance needs.
  4. Synergy with Earth Observation and SAR Constellations: Integrating RF-tracking payloads into partner Earth observation and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) constellations is a strategic move. It allows for more comprehensive data collection by leveraging existing constellations to capture additional information in areas identified as interesting by RF payloads.
  5. Collaboration with Earth Observation and SAR Companies: Horizon Technologies is actively collaborating with Earth observation and SAR companies to integrate RF-tracking capabilities into their upcoming satellite launches. This collaborative approach expands the network and capabilities of the Amber constellation.

Overall, Horizon’s vision for the Amber constellation demonstrates the growing importance of small satellites and their potential to address a wide range of security and surveillance challenges. It also highlights the synergy between space-based solutions and existing Earth observation and SAR constellations, underscoring the importance of integrated data for comprehensive situational awareness.

The Space Force is expected to shift investments from large satellites like the Space Based Infrared System, which the Air Force acquired around 20 years ago to smaller spacecraft.

According to the the head of military space acquisitions, the era of massive satellites needs to be a thing of the past for the Department of Defense and he told the government and industry executives about this a week ago.

Frank Calvelli, assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, since taking office has been insistent that reforms are needed in satellite procurements, including the transition to smaller satellites that can be built and launched within a three-year period, compared to a decade or longer for traditional large satellites. 

Calvelli spoke at the National Security Space Association’s defense and intelligence conference in a fireside chat with former DoD official Doug Loverro.

Echoing points he made in previous public appearances, Calvelli called for DoD to break from the past and embrace more agile ways to buy satellites in order to make United States of America systems more resilient to threats. Most space-based systems the U.S. military needs — for communications, space domain awareness, missile detection and tracking, navigation, weather and other applications — can be accomplished using small satellites, Calvelli said. 

“We are transforming from what’s been called ‘big juicy targets’ of the past to a more proliferated and more resilient architecture that can be counted on during times of crisis and conflict,” he said. 

Using commercially available satellite buses and components, DoD can build smaller spacecraft for operations in low, medium or geostationary Earth orbits, Calvelli said. “I see us building small satellites everywhere, regardless of whether it’s LEO MEO or GEO.”

Calvelli made the case that the traditional “big structures with lots of payloads on them” can be broken down into smaller satellites which would be harder for an enemy to target. That concept, also known as “disaggregation,” was advocated by some Air Force officials a decade ago but was largely rejected in favor of big satellites that, although expensive, can operate in orbit for decades. 

In light of recent advances in anti-satellite weapons developed by China and Russia, the Pentagon has to pivot to more resilient systems, Calvelli stressed. “I do believe that we can break apart the big behemoths in GEO and break them into smaller bite-sized chunks which is going to diversify the architecture and protect us more.”

‘Do not design new buses’

Since taking office seven months ago, Calvelli has noticed that Space Force program offices tend to design bespoke satellite buses, another practice that he wants to end. 

“If you need some new tech, that’s okay. But keep that development focused on the payload. Do not create new buses,” he said. 

There are plenty of commercially available buses to choose from, he said. “We love building new buses. We love building new bus components. We love doing new things that are already out there,” he said. “If you need to do some tech development, keep it minimal.”

There has been proposed constellation of six CubeSats to map lightning.

Cubespark CubeSats, equipped with high-resolution optical imagers and VHF sensors, would “map not only the flash locations, but map the full structure of it deep within convective clouds,” Jackson Remington of the Universities Space Research Association said Jan. 9 at the American Meteorological Society conference here.

Cubespark is designed to measure the global distribution of lightning, help explain the relationship between lightning and severe weather, and monitor lightning-produced nitrogen oxides, which have an impact on air quality.

The data currently comes from a variety of sources including terrestrial sensors and the Geostationary Lightning Mappers on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series. In low Earth orbit, a Lightning Image Sensor (LIS) designed by scientists at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and manufactured at NASA Marshall has been making observations since it was installed on the International Space Station in 2017.

“It’s important to point out that low-Earth orbit observations are at risk,” Remington said.

LIS is scheduled to stop gathering data from the space station later this year “and there’s no planned successor of a day-night lightning imager” in low-Earth orbit, Remington said. “So, we really need to get these up there,” he added.

In simulations, the Cubespark constellation was able to pinpoint the location of lightning to within one to two kilometers over a 300- to 600-kilometer swath from the tropics to high latitudes, Remington said.

NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office is supporting the Cubespark concept through its Instrument Incubator Program.

The space station offers an excellent vantage point to scientists studying TLEs. At about 250 miles up, it is much closer to these phenomena than a geosynchronous satellite. Further, the stations’ orbit allows for coverage of storms worldwide.

All this allows LIS and ASIM to produce a unique space-based dataset of thunderstorms and their effects, which in turn helps support other observational instruments. LIS for example has been used to calibrate instruments and verify data for the Geostationary Lightning Mapper on NASA and NOAA’s GOES satellites, and will also support the lightning imager on the European satellite, Meteosat Third Generation. This support helps make the data produced by these sensors the highest quality for serving the public.

From the space station, LIS can provide lightning data in near-realtime for the benefit of those on Earth. It can report lightning nearing dry areas of forests prone to wildfires. It’s integrated into the NOAA Aviation Weather Center’s operations, which provides weather forecasts and warnings to the US and international aviation and maritime communities. And, over time, it can map data points to help scientists observe changes to our climate over broad tracts of land and sea.

In short, studying lightning and its effects both below and above the clouds can have a big impact on how we view our planet.