Rocket Lab’s Successful 12th Electron Mission Launch for NASA, NRO and UNSW Canberra 


Rocket Lab’s statement …

Rocket Lab, a space systems company and the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, has successfully launched its 12th Electron mission and deployed satellites to orbit for NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space. 

The ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ mission launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 05:12 UTC, 13 June 2020. The mission was Rocket Lab’s 12th Electron launch and continued the company’s record of 100 percent mission success for customers since Electron’s first orbital mission in January 2018. Rocket Lab has now deployed 53 satellites to orbit with the Electron launch vehicle.

This launch is the first conducted by Rocket Lab since Covid-19 national restrictions were eased earlier this month, demonstrating the company’s rapid launch and responsive space capability for small satellite customers.

The satellites deployed as part of this rideshare mission include NASA’s ANDESITE (Ad-Hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-Based Inquiry and Other Team Endeavors) satellite created by students and professors at Boston University to study Earth’s magnetic field as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI); three payloads designed, built and operated by the NRO; and the M2 Pathfinder satellite, a collaboration between the UNSW Canberra Space and the Australian Government, to test communications architecture and other technologies.

This latest mission marks the second time NASA and the NRO have launched payloads on Electron, following dedicated missions for each organisation in 2018 and 2020 respectively. Rocket Lab founder and chief executive, Peter Beck, said the mission highlighted Electron’s continued ability to meet the needs of government missions, whether payloads required a dedicated mission or could fly as part of a rideshare.

“It was a privilege to once again provide access to space for the NRO and NASA, and to welcome UNSW Canberra Space to orbit for the first time,” he said. “Missions like this one are testament to the flexibility we offer small satellite operators through our ability to deploy multiple payloads to precise and individual orbits on the same launch. This collaborative mission was also a great demonstration of Rocket Lab’s capability in meeting the unique national security needs of the NRO, while on the same mission making space easy and accessible for educational payloads from NASA and UNSW Canberra. I’m also incredibly proud of the way our team has quickly adapted to working safely and efficiently to ensure our customers remain connected to space through the challenges posed by COVID-19.” 

With Covid-19 restrictions now easing, Rocket Lab has also returned to full production of Electron launch vehicles and Photon satellites. Rocket Lab is now delivering a launch vehicle off the production line every 18 days to meet a busy launch manifest for the rest of the year. Final checks are being completed in the lead up to Rocket Lab’s first launch from its new U.S. launch site, Launch Complex 2 in Virginia — a dedicated mission in partnership with the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program and the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Small Launch and Targets Division. The mission is scheduled for Q3 2020. Details of Rocket Lab’s next launch from Launch Complex 1 will be announced shortly.


SpaceX Success with Starlink / Planet SkySat Launch

On Saturday, June 13, at 5:21 a.m. EDT, 9:21 UTC, SpaceX successfully launched their ninth Starlink mission, carrying 58 Starlink satellites and three of Planet’s SkySats — this mission marked SpaceX’s first SmallSat Rideshare Program launch.

Falcon 9’s first stage previously supported Dragon’s 19th and 20th resupply missions to the International Space Station. Following stage separation, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage successfully landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

The “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship.
Photo is courtesy of SpaceX.

One half of Falcon 9’s fairing previously flew on the JCSAT-18/Kacific1 mission and the other half previously flew on SpaceX’s third Starlink mission. Planet’s SkySats were deployed sequentially beginning about 12 minutes after liftoff and then the Starlink satellites were deployed approximately 26 minutes after liftoff.

Artistic rendition of Planet’s SkySat smallsats.
Image is courtesy of the company.


Planet Data Assists the Copernicus Emergency Management Service

Planet’s Dove smallsats.
Image is courtesy of the company.

The Copernicus Emergency Management Service, or Copernicus EMS, uses Planet data to help provide emergency response mapping services for a variety of disaster situations, ranging from geophysical and meteorological hazards to humanitarian and man-made crises.

When events occur, authorized users can alert Copernicus EMS to an emergency location, and the service provides satellite-derived products for quick and effective response. It also provides information that can aid in disaster preparedness, prevention and recovery.

Copernicus EMS is managed by the European Commission and operated by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. The European Space Agency (ESA) is responsible for providing satellite data for the requested products, both from Sentinel missions and from commercial data providers. Planet and ESA entered into an agreement allowing ESA to access both PlanetScope and SkySat as one of the Copernicus Contributing Missions—with the aim of combining Planet data with information gleaned from Sentinel satellites.

As Copernicus EMS has access to Planet’s SkySat constellation—which will have increased rapid revisit capabilities due to the upcoming launch of more SkySats—the service is able to provide governments and other organizations with critical geospatial information within hours or days of a disaster, charting changes in near-real time. With access to Planet’s extensive PlanetScope and SkySat imagery archive, Copernicus EMS is also able to supply organizations with imagery of a location before an event occurs. This allows the service to provide risk and recovery maps and an early warning and monitoring component, which includes support in case of droughts, wildfires and floods.

The service connects decision-makers with the critical geoinformation they need, empowering them to assess situations with more clarity and make educated decisions.


Spaceflight Acquired

Spaceflight Inc. has been acquired by Mitsui & Co., Ltd., in partnership with Yamasa Co., Ltd. — this acquisition is now complete with the final review of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

In February 2020, Spaceflight’s parent company, Spaceflight Industries, announced it had signed an agreement with the Japanese companies for the sale of the launch service provider, pending the CFIUS review. The review was completes in April and the acquisition finalized on June 12, 2020. Mitsui & Co. and Yamasa will have 50/50 joint venture ownership in Spaceflight, but the launch service provider will continue to operate as a privately held, independent U.S.-based company.

The acquisition is a unique opportunity for Spaceflight to further invest and expand its commercial and government rideshare launch services while Mitsui & Co. expands its portfolio to offer space services.

Since its founding in 2013, Spaceflight has launched a record-setting 271 satellites via 29 rocket launches, establishing itself as the leading rideshare service provider. The company offers comprehensive launch and integration services across a global portfolio of vehicles, including Falcon 9, PSLV, SSLV, Electron, Antares, and Vega.

Spaceflight successfully executed nine missions in 2019, the most rideshare launches the company has performed in one year, with four launches spanning 16 days across three continents. In 2018, Spaceflight executed its historic dedicated rideshare mission, SSO-A, which deployed 64 satellites from 17 different countries from a Falcon 9. The company also completed the first-ever rideshare mission to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) in 2019, launching the first privately funded lunar lander.

Spaceflight headquarters will remain in Seattle with Blake continuing to serve as the CEO and President, reporting to a newly formed board of directors established with a majority of U.S.-based persons.

Curt Blake, the CEO and President of Spaceflight, said the completion of this deal is an exciting step for Spaceflight. Joining the high-growth Mitsui & Co. portfolio positions Spaceflight to deliver and expand on the comprehensive launch services the company offers. The firm is exploring the development of new, standardized, deployment systems, new digital initiatives, and other programs that further help the company’s customers reliably and affordably access space, in the most flexible way possible. Spaceflight’s biggest priority, as always, is ensuring all customers are fully supported through this transition and the necessary steps are being taken to establish infrastructure to meet their needs.

Tomohiro Musha, GM of Transportation & Machinery Business Div. IV in Mitsui & Co., added that Spaceflight has contributed significantly to the space industry, pushing boundaries and achieving great success making rideshare a credible and reliable option for smallsat launches. The acquisition of this industry leader will allow the company to expand business in exciting new ways.


Bradford ECAPS Thrusts Out the Firm’s Successes

Bradford Space and ECAPS manufacture and deliver the high performance (HPGP) 1N thruster for the firm’s satellite customers’ attitude and orbit control needs.

The company has a large number of these thrusters on order, in production and at the customer. These include:

Preparatory activities for Moog’s first SL-OMV mission out of the United Kingdom with a scheduled delivery of 6 units in Q3, 2020. For more information about this mission, see Small Launch Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle will Enable UK Launched Small Satellite Missions.

SL-OMV ready to deploy six payloads to their optimal orbits.
Image is courtesy of Moog.


Procurement and manufacturing begun on 100 thrusters for Boeing.

Eight 1N HPGP High Throughput systems for the first Astranis micro-GEO mission. Targeting delivery by Q3 and ready for launch Q1, 2021 this program will feature an innovative combined HPGP / EP system.

Bradford ECAPS’s 1N HPGP Thruster.
Image is courtesy of the company.

Twelve thrusters delivered to VACCO in Q4 2019 and the latest four have been delivered in March 2020 for use on Millennium Space Systems ALTAIR spacecraft.

Millennium Space Systems
ALTAIR™ spacecraft.
Image is courtesy of NASA.


Four thrusters delivered to NanoAvionics in early May 2020.

The NanoAvionics smallsat bus.
Image is courtesy of the company.

A double-capacity SkySat-like system is being engineered and built at Bradford Space in the Netherlands for York Space Systems, US, with a scheduled delivery in Q2, 2021.

SkySat Systems Ready for Launch
The Bradford ECAPS propulsion systems for SkySats 16 – 18 are fueled and ready for lift-off at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station USA onboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 Starlink 8 mission. Three other systems, for SkySats 19 – 21, will be launched later this summer on another SpaceX Falcon 9. For more details on this SkySat Block 3 mission go to Planet’s announcement SkySats 16-21 To Launch On SpaceX Falcon 9 Rideshare Missions.

Artistic rendition of Planet’s SkySats on-orbit.
Image is courtesy of the company.

The SkySat propulsion is a highly compact system originally designed by ECAPS for Skybox Imaging, now Planet. The SkySat spacecraft are powered by four 1N HPGP thrusters and ADN propellant, providing the highest performance in the liquid monopropellant market.

To date, 19 propulsion systems have been delivered to Planet of which 13 have been successfully deployed and are operating in orbit. Earlier successful launches in this series are:

  • SkySat 3 – Launched in June 2016 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre,
    India (Antrix’s PSLV, C-34)
  • SkySats 4-7 – Launched in September 2016 from Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana (Arianespace’s Vega, 007)
  • SkySats 8-13 – Launched in October 2017 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, USA (Orbital ATK’s Minotaur-C, 010)
  • SkySats 14-15 – Launched in December 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, USA (SpaceX’s Falcon 9, 064)

Other Upcoming Missions Equipped with ECAPS Thrusters

  • The Astroscale ELSA-d, launching in October 2020 (TBC), will have eight 1N HPGP thrusters
  • Fueling of the ArgoMoon subsystem, built by VACCO and powered by one ECAPS 100mN thruster with ADN propellant, is scheduled to be “fueled at the factory” at one of the ECAPS facilities in Sweden in Q4, 2020
  • One tailored SkySat system, comprising four ECAPS 1N HPGP thrusters on the Blue Canyon Tetra-3 mission for launch in Q1, 2021

5N and 22N HPGP Thruster Development
These larger thrusters, designed for attitude, trajectory and orbit control on small, medium and larger satellites, are in development and almost ready for production. ECAPS is working with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to characterize the performance of each system for use on future NASA observatory and/or interplanetary missions. The 22N is on track to be flight qualified by the end of this year, and the 5N will be fully qualified by early 2021.


Arianespace’s Flight VV16 to Perform Small Spacecraft Mission Proof of Concept Flight 


Arianespace is preparing for the first launch of 2020, on Thursday, June 18. With this mission, designated Flight VV16, Arianespace stresses its wide range of services to address the nano- and micro-satellite market sub-segment, by serving both institutional and commercial needs.

The creation of such a new service using the company’s light-lift Vega led to the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) project. For its fifth mission in 2020, and the first Vega flight of the year, the launch will take place from the Vega Launch Complex (SLV) in Kourou, French Guiana. Arianespace will orbit 53 satellites with seven microsatellites (from 15 kg. to 150 kg.) on the upper portion, along with 46 smaller CubeSats on the lower portion’s Hexamodule, on the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) Proof of Concept (PoC) Flight. VV16’s mission, with 21 customers from 13 countries on board that will serve different types of applications: Earth observation, telecommunications, science, technology/education, etc. The SSMS rideshare concept is now integrated into Arianespace commercial offer, as a new service to address the small satellite market.

The European Space Agency (ESA) funded the SSMS hardware development, and also contributed with the European Union to the funding of this “Proof of Concept” (PoC) flight. The combined European efforts will enhance Arianespace’s response to the rideshare demand with solutions that are perfectly suited to the flourishing small satellite market.

Arianespace ensures their clients that by choosing Arianespace, all customers are entitled to the same level of quality and reliability, and new customers such as laboratories, universities and start-ups are guaranteed the optimum conditions for the launch of their space projects.

This Arianespace’s concept —with multiple small satellites from 1 kg. to 500 kg. being flown together on Vega with the objective of sharing the launch cost — has been developed with the support of ESA and Avio. The satellite dispenser is an ESA product developed by Avio under ESA leadership and it is produced by the Czech company, SAB Aerospace s.r.o. (CZ). Satellite integration has been performed for the first time in Europe (Czech Republi

With this new service, Arianespace will be able to respond to the constellation and small satellite market demand thanks to the dual strategy of shared launches on Vega / Vega C and Ariane 6.


Launch Services Agreement Signed Between Exolaunch and Loft Orbital

Exolaunch has signed a Launch Services Agreement with Loft Orbital to deliver Loft Orbital’s YAM smallsat into SSO via a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

A Falcon 9 launch vehicle lift off. Image is courtesy of SpaceX.

Under the contract, Exolaunch will deliver mission management, deployment and integration services to Loft Orbital, who operates microsatellites and flies customers’ payloads as a service. The launch is targeted for December 2020 and is part of SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program.

The YAM-3 smallsat will carry various payloads for Loft Orbital’s customers, including an Internet of Things (IoT) payload, an onboard autonomy demonstration, a positioning and queuing demonstration and blockchain applications. Using a unique aggregation approach, Loft Orbital offers its customers end-to-end services and delivery of missions to orbit on a standardized satellite bus. Its customers provide payloads, sensors or experiments while also saving time and avoiding the complexity and costs of building their own spacecraft.

YAM-3 will be deployed from a Falcon 9 ESPA port with CarboNIX, Exolaunch’s shock-free, lightweight, separation system for smallsats. This launch will mark the first cooperation between Loft Orbital and Exolaunch. In addition to the upcoming Falcon 9 mission, Exolaunch is set to arrange the launch and provide deployment services for Loft Orbital’s next microsatellite in 2021.

Exolaunch’s CarboNIX.

Earlier this spring, Exolaunch procured launch capacity from SpaceX to launch multiple small satellites aboard Falcon 9 as part of SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program. Exolaunch will provide comprehensive rideshare mission management, deployment and integration services for the customers joining this launch. Exolaunch has numerous customers who already signed up for this mission, and the company now begins to release more information on its manifest.

To date, Exolaunch has successfully arranged launch campaigns for nearly one hundred small satellites. The company’s expertise in rideshare launches – in combination with its brand new multi-port adapters, flight-proven sequencers and CarboNIX shock-free separation systems – allows smallsat developers to benefit from top-tier mission management under SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program.

Pierre-Damien Vaujour, Co-CEO at Loft Orbital, said the company is thrilled to be partnering with Exolaunch for YAM-3’s launch. Loft Orbital has been extremely impressed with the Exolaunch team and the CarboNIX technology. Remaining satellite bus, payload and launch vehicle agnostic is a core part of Loft Orbital’s value proposition and YAM-3 is a prime example of the schedule benefits resulting from that strategy.

Jeanne Medvedeva, Commercial Director at Exolaunch, added that Loft Orbital’s unique service of aggregating multiple payloads on their satellites addresses the industry’s acute demand for reduced complexity and costs. Exolaunch is proud to deploy the YAM-3 microsatellite into orbit with Falcon 9 and provide comprehensive mission support for the launch and the firm looks forward to supporting additional YAM launches in the future.

Artistic rendition is courtesy of Loft Orbital.


GomSpace Signs to Build MILSATCOM Smallsats for Norwegian Defence Research Establishment

GomSpace has signed a contract to develop and deliver a smallsat to the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) — this contract is worth 19 MSEK.

The satellite will demonstrate military tactical communications on the UHF band from a polar Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The primary mission objective is to demonstrate the military use and relevance of an Arctic satellite relay for tactical communication radios.

Another objective is to demonstrate that such a capability can be made operational in within 2 years from project start and less than 18 months after signing this contract. Launch is planned to October 2021.

Niels Buus, CEO of GomSpace, said the firm is thrilled to engage in this project with FFI that will use the full range of GomSpace capabilities to deliver the platform as well as be deeply involved in the payload development, the launch and early operations and the company will be supporting the mission operations.

Lars Erling Bråten, Principal Scientist at FFI, added that to carry out this project on the fast track is an important goal of the project, with the long-term objective to establish an operational system that can provide this kind of SATCOM capability in the Arctic region.


Arianespace’s Vega Smallsats Integration for Flight VV16 Now Completed

The 53 satellite passengers for Arianespace’s rideshare flight with its Vega light-lift launcher have been integrated at the Spaceport in French Guiana, marking a key milestone in preparation for the June 18 Proof of Concept mission with Europe’s Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS).

Shown during the SSMS payload integration process for Arianespace’s Flight VV16 is the ION CubeSat carrier – a platform that will deploy 12 CubeSats after being placed in orbit by the Vega launcher.

Photos are courtesy of Arianespace.

During activity at the Spaceport, Vega’s payload of seven microsatellites (weighing 15 to 150 kg.), along with 46 smaller cubesats, were installed on the SSMS platform – from which they will be deployed into Sun-Synchronous orbits (SSO) during the Vega mission.

The SSMS hardware development was funded by the European Space Agency (ESA); the European Union contributed to the financing of this Proof of Concept flight. The combined European efforts will enhance Arianespace’s response to the rideshare demand with solutions that are perfectly suited to the flourishing small satellite market.

The SSMS provides a new dedicated European rideshare solution with Vega that is modular and capable of accommodating a full range of payload combinations. Vega’s upcoming Proof of Concept mission – designated Flight VV16 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering system – was conceived in the context of ESA’s LLL (Light satellite, Low-cost, Launch opportunity) initiative.

The lift performance for Vega on Flight VV16 is approximately 1,310 kg.

During the June 18 nighttime mission, Vega’s liftoff and ascent will be powered by the launcher’s solid-propellant first, second and third stages, followed by four ignitions of the AVUM bi-propellent upper stage.

During Vega’s flight sequence, the seven smallsats will be deployed from 40 minutes into the mission through 52 minutes; followed by the cubesats’ phased release from 1 hour, 42 minutes to just under 1 hour, 44 minutes, 56 seconds.

Italy’s Avio is the production prime contractor for Vega, delivering the integrated launcher to Arianespace. Avio also developed the small satellite delivery system and the specific mission preparation process for Flight VV16, performing these tasks under ESA leadership. Design authority for the multi-payload dispenser system is SAB Aerospace s.r.o. of the Czech Republic.

Arianespace personnel are using smart glasses during certain payload checkout activities for Flight VV16 at the Spaceport in French Guiana, enabling customers to remotely monitor operations performed on satellites that will be orbited this month by the Vega light-lift launcher.

Photos are courtesy of Arianespace.


York Space Systems and LatConnect 60 Partnership for a Smallsat Constellation

York Space Systems has been selected as a strategic partner and subcontractor by LatConnect 60, a firm that is currently developing a smallsat constellation that will provide greater access and control to critical Earth Observation (EO) data required by the Australian government and a wide range of commercial clients across the world.

York Space Systems will manufacture its spacecraft platform for the constellation as well as provide its full mission operations and deployment capabilities at an unprecedented cost and delivery time.

LatConnect 60’s initial constellation of three satellites will carry multiple payloads, with each satellite capable of both RF Signal Intelligence and High Resolution Multispectral Imaging. The first satellite is scheduled for launch in June 2021. LatConnect 60 is working to deliver AI capabilities onboard its satellites, where each satellite is able to autonomously geolocate and process RF signals identified in order to trigger its imaging payload and any other secondary payloads to conduct data collection over an Area of Interest. Collected data is fused and delivered to end users in an Activity Intelligence Report.

York Space Systems’ spacecraft platform is designed to improve affordability and ease of access to space for next generation space companies around the world. The platform itself can support a wide range of missions, including Earth observation, the key focus of the LatConnect 60 constellation. Pricing and fast delivery of satellites is an attractive differentiator for York and is a primary factor in gaining LatConnect 60’s business.

Dirk Wallinger, CEO of York Space Systems, said the firm strongly believes in LatConnect 60’s mission, especially as it serves to help national security surveillance efforts by the Australian government. York Space Systems is eager to work with their team on this constellation build out to highlight the company’s delivery times and competitive price points as well as to be a part of the latest innovation in space.

LatConnect 60 CEO Venkat Pillay added that in addition to York’s fast delivery time, which is well under nine months to orbit and at an attractive price point, the company also found their design methodology, delivery and mission services plan to be well defined. This partnership will enable LatConnect 60 to provide a truly responsive space capability at affordable service levels to the firm’s clients in Australia and Asia Pacific.