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.

Through the Slingshot 1 mission, Aerospace Corp. has exemplified the efficacy of open standards and nonproprietary interfaces in simplifying the process of satellite integration and operation. This success was evident after over a year of on-orbit functioning, as affirmed by David Hinkley, an operator for Aerospace Slingshot payloads, who stated that Slingshot has achieved significant accomplishments.

The Slingshot 1 project featured 19 distinct payloads, each developed independently and seamlessly integrated within a few weeks before being launched in July 2022. The launch utilized a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket for a 12-unit cubesat.

This efficient integration was facilitated by Handle, a modular plug-and-play interface. Handle enables payloads to access power from the satellite bus and establish communication not only with the host satellite but also with other payloads. This connectivity operates on a peer-to-peer network, allowing every payload to establish communication pathways. Alexander Utter, Slingshot’s lead for command and data handling, and the principal investigator for Slingshot payload SatCat5, elucidated the nature of this system.

As Slingshot embarks on its extended mission phase, Aerospace Corp. is leveraging the plug-and-play design of Slingshot’s architecture for supplementary missions and encouraging satellite operators to contemplate its adoption.

While the Slingshot standard has not yet received official endorsement from international standards bodies, Alexander Utter expressed confidence in its progress beyond the current technological norm.

After slightly over a year in space, the Slingshot payloads persist in showcasing self-sufficiency, robotic capabilities, and onboard processing. Furthermore, the satellite is outfitted with a GPS transponder, a hydrogen peroxide thruster, and a laser communications downlink.

The universal interface of Slingshot has enabled payloads to effectively share resources.

To illustrate, consider Vertigo, a modular attitude control system designed to orient Slingshot toward specific ground targets. This system accesses processing capabilities via Slingshot’s local area network. Consequently, Vertigo doesn’t require an independent high-capacity processor of its own.

Another innovative payload integrated into Slingshot focuses on machine learning applied to rendezvous and proximity operations. Within this setup, a camera placed on Slingshot observes a miniature cubesat replica affixed to an expandable panel on the satellite’s exterior. By observing this miniaturized satellite across various lighting conditions, orientations, and backgrounds, valuable training data is gathered for machine learning algorithms.

On July 17th, a Rocket Lab Electron rocket successfully placed seven smallsats into orbit for three different customers. This launch not only marked a significant achievement in satellite deployment but also moved the company closer to realizing its goal of reusing the Electron rocket’s booster.

The launch took place at Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand‘s Mahia Peninsula at 9:27 p.m. Eastern Time. Originally scheduled for July 14th, the launch was delayed to allow the company to make final preparations for both launching the rocket and recovering the booster.

During the mission, the Electron rocket’s kick stage executed multiple burns to deploy the payloads into their respective orbits. The deployment sequence began with four NASA Starling 6U smallsats and two Spire 3U smallsats, which were placed into a 575-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit. Subsequently, after two additional burns, the kick stage released Telesat’s LEO 3 satellite into a 1,000-kilometer orbit approximately an hour and 45 minutes after liftoff.

Among the payloads were four NASA Starling satellites that will test autonomous swarm operations, two Spire satellites intended to enhance the company’s weather data collection capabilities, and Telesat’s LEO 3 satellite, the largest spacecraft on the mission. LEO 3, built by the University of Toronto’s Space Flight Laboratory for Telesat, will aid the Canadian satellite operator in ongoing tests for its future Lightspeed constellation, which had previously been carried out by another prototype satellite nearing the end of its operational life.

The “Baby Come Back” mission presented Rocket Lab with an opportunity to test the viability of recovering and reusing the first smallsats stage of its Electron rocket. As part of their ongoing efforts, the company introduced several modifications to the rocket and adjusted its recovery approach. The initial plan to capture falling boosters mid-air was changed to allow them to land in the ocean. The mission’s webcast showed the retrieved booster on a ship shortly before the final satellite’s deployment.

Rocket Lab’s CEO, Peter Beck, expressed their progress towards reusability, stating that they are now closer than ever to achieving the first relaunch of a booster. Beck mentioned that the recovered booster was in excellent condition.

Beck did not provide a specific timeline for when reusability might be achieved. However, the company plans to reuse a Rutherford engine on an Electron launch later in the year. Wayne McIntosh, the team lead for Electron reusability at Rocket Lab, outlined a series of flight tests in the works before actual reuse is considered.

McIntosh stated that there will be incremental changes introduced in future launches, with a significant shift in the 45th flight. This launch dubbed the “golden child,” will involve sealing changes that will enable accurate vehicle disposition for reuse. The “Baby Come Back” mission marked the 39th flight of an Electron rocket.

Rocket Lab’s recent launch marked its seventh mission this year, encompassing six orbital launches and the launch of the suborbital variant named Hypersonic Accelerator Suborbital Test Electron (HASTE) from Virginia.

According to Peter Beck, the company’s CEO, Rocket Lab is sticking to its earlier projections of conducting up to 15 Electron launches in this year, a count that includes both orbital missions and HASTE flights. Beck acknowledged that the primary challenge in achieving this launch rate has been customer readiness. He mentioned that they anticipate a busy upcoming season as customers aim to finalize their preparations.

The shifts in the market, such as the bankruptcy of Virgin Orbit, have also influenced Rocket Lab’s operations. For instance, NorthStar Earth and Space, initially planning to launch their space situational awareness satellites with Virgin Orbit, switched to Rocket Lab and signed a contract to launch their first four satellites this autumn on an Electron rocket. Beck highlighted that Rocket Lab has observed increased interest from customers who had initially intended to launch with other providers. Notably, the NASA Starling satellites, originally slated for a Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket launch, were eventually manifested for Rocket Lab’s mission.

Peter Beck noted that there has been a notable increase in defections from various emerging launch providers this year compared to previous years. Delays and concerns about early flight risks seem to be driving this shift. This trend indicates a degree of uncertainty and volatility within the industry as it continues to evolve.

Beck explained that in the early stages when all providers had only a few launches under their belts, the mission risk was relatively equal for everyone. However, as the industry matures and more launches are completed, the willingness to take on extra risk for potential cost savings diminishes. This is leading customers to opt for providers with proven track records and reliable services.

Rocket Lab has a launch planned for the end of the month, and the company intends to reveal further details about this upcoming mission in the near future.

The launch of NASA’s TROPICS CubeSats via Rocket Lab’s Electron marked a significant milestone in the development of a constellation designed to monitor tropical storms. Here’s an overview of the key details:

  • Mission Name: Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS)
  • Launch Vehicle: Rocket Lab Electron
  • Launch Date and Time: May 7, 9 p.m. Eastern Time
  • Launch Site: Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand
  • Payload: Two TROPICS CubeSats
  • Mission Objective: TROPICS aims to monitor and study the development of tropical storms, specifically focusing on their precipitation and intensity. The constellation uses microwave radiometers on each CubeSat to gather temperature and water vapor data, which are essential for understanding storm dynamics.
  • Constellation Design: The TROPICS constellation comprises a total of four CubeSats. The launch of the first two satellites was followed by another launch of the remaining two satellites about two weeks later.
  • Orbital Parameters: The Electron rocket placed the TROPICS cubesats into a 550-kilometer orbit at an inclination of 32 degrees. The kick stage of the Electron, typically used for circularizing orbits, also performed the inclination change necessary for the mission.
  • Monitoring Capability: With four satellites operating together, the TROPICS constellation will be able to provide hourly updates on tropical storm development. This data is expected to be valuable for monitoring the formation and behavior of tropical weather systems, including hurricanes.

This launch comes after a previous attempt, during which the first satellites in the TROPICS constellation were lost due to a launch failure of a different rocket. The successful launch of the TROPICS CubeSats via the Electron demonstrates the resilience and determination of space agencies and companies to overcome setbacks and continue advancing scientific research and capabilities.

The TROPICS Cubesats constellation, designed to monitor tropical storms and improve our understanding of their development and intensity, holds significant potential for advancing weather forecasting capabilities. Here are additional key points about TROPICS and its journey:

  • Unique Data Collection: The TROPICS constellation gathers data in the microwave wavelength region of storms with hourly frequency. This data will provide insights into the fundamental processes driving tropical storms, leading to a better understanding of their behavior and aiding in more accurate track and intensity forecasts.
  • Improved Forecasting: By analyzing the data collected by TROPICS, scientists and meteorologists aim to enhance their ability to predict the paths and intensities of tropical storms, including hurricanes. This can have significant implications for disaster preparedness and response.
  • Launch Setback and Recovery: TROPICS originally planned to deploy a six-satellite constellation, but the first two satellites were lost due to the failure of an Astra Rocket 3.3 launch in June 2022. This setback prompted NASA to secure a new launch provider, Rocket Lab, to carry the remaining four satellites into orbit using the Electron rocket.
  • Revised Launch Plan: NASA selected Rocket Lab in November 2022 to launch the remaining TROPICS cubesats. The agency’s Venture-class Acquisition of a Dedicated Rideshare (VADR) contract facilitated this task order, valued at $12.99 million. The successful launch of the first two satellites via Rocket Lab’s Electron is a significant step forward in recovering from the initial launch failure.
  • Collaborative Effort: TROPICS is a collaborative effort involving organizations such as NASA, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and Rocket Lab. The combination of expertise from these entities contributes to the success of the mission and its ability to provide valuable data for scientific research.
  • Future Possibilities: With a total of four satellites planned for the TROPICS constellation, the project is well-positioned to make significant contributions to the field of tropical storm research and forecasting. The data collected by TROPICS can be used to refine models and simulations, ultimately improving our understanding of these complex weather phenomena.

The successful launch of the TROPICS cubesats by Rocket Lab represents a triumph over challenges and setbacks, showcasing the resilience and determination of the space industry to advance scientific knowledge and technology.

The decision to move the TROPICS satellite launches from Virginia to New Zealand was driven by the need to align the launch schedule with the upcoming storm season. Here are some additional details about the decision and its implications:

  • Timeline and Launch Site: Rocket Lab announced on April 10 that it would change the launch site for the two TROPICS missions from Virginia to New Zealand. The decision was prompted by the timeline required to get the satellites into orbit for the storm season, which didn’t align with the schedule for launching from Virginia.
  • Mission Requirements: The change in the launch site did not impact the ability to meet the mission’s requirements, as both locations could fulfill the technical needs of the mission. NASA officials expressed their willingness to accommodate the change as long as the launch provider could meet the necessary mission criteria.
  • Cost and Logistics: According to Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck, the change in launch sites did not incur additional costs for NASA. While there were some logistical adjustments and paperwork involved in shifting the launch to New Zealand, they were minor and manageable. The TROPICS mission manager at the launch site had to deal with time zone differences to coordinate the launch activities.
  • Operational Timeline: Pending a successful second launch, NASA anticipates having the four-satellite TROPICS system operational by the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season in the summer. While the original plan was for a six-satellite constellation, having four satellites still allows TROPICS to meet its requirement of providing valuable data with revisit times slightly longer than initially planned.
  • Revisit Times: The decision to proceed with a four-satellite constellation instead of the originally intended six does lead to slightly longer revisit times between data collections. However, the TROPICS mission remains effective in achieving its objectives, including providing essential data for understanding tropical storm formation and intensification.

Ultimately, the change in launch sites for the TROPICS missions demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability of space missions to ensure they are best suited to meet their scientific goals and operational requirements.