Tying Their Smallsat Expertise Together are Rocket Lab and KSAT

Rocket Lab has partnered with Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) to be the sole provider of ground station services for the Electron launch vehicle and Photon satellite bus customers.

This agreement sees Rocket Lab deliver a complete solution for smallsat operators, including satellite design and build, launch, and ground segment support leveraging an existing global network of ground stations.

Photo: Peter Beck (l), CEO of Rocket Lab, and
Katherine Monson (r) of KSAT USA.

Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle is currently the only commercial, dedicated smallsat launch vehicle operating a service to orbit, making space more accessible for small satellites. With a proven launch vehicle in operation since January 2018, the next evolution of Rocket Lab’s mission services is the Photon satellite bus. Designed for seamless pairing with Electron, the Photon satellite bus streamlines the entire end-to-end satellite experience for customers from design to build to launch.

Likewise, KSAT’s KSATlite ground network is designed and optimized for small satellite systems, providing streamlined access (through standardized API driven interfaces) and scalable support that grows to meet mission needs.

Liftoff of an Electron rocket.

Photo is courtesy of Rocket Lab.

The closely integrated partnership with KSAT now provides launch to operations ground segment support for Photon customers – the final piece for small satellite operators seeking an end-to-end mission partner.  This enables small satellite operators to focus on what really matters—their applications and their customers—freeing engineering time and capital from having to develop a spacecraft platform, secure a launch, and coordinate access to ground stations from different providers.

The partnership between Rocket Lab and KSAT provides Photon customers downlink and uplink capabilities in UHF, S-band, X-band, and Ka-band across a global ground station network of over 200 antennas that supports 50,000 contacts per month.

Rocket Lab Chief Executive and founder, Peter Beck, stated that the company’s partnership with KSAT will play an important role in continuing to streamline the path to orbit for small satellite operators. Rocket Lab has solved the launch challenge when the firm began regular and reliable launch services in January of 2018. Now the company is simplifying the spacecraft side of the equation with the combination of Photon and KSAT’s ground network support.

Head of KSAT USA, Katherine Monson, noted that there is an enormous rise in demand for data from small satellites in space, yet the challenges of procuring launch, building your own spacecraft and then having to coordinate ground communications can be time and cost prohibitive. This partnership with Rocket Lab and its Photon customers means small satellite operators will now have access to reliable, scalable services across our global network – starting with support on a per-pass basis and options to move to full antennas as their communication demand grows. KSAT is the bridge back to Earth for both the Electron launch vehicle and Photon customer payloads, thereby making space more accessible, through cost-efficient access and proven mission assurance.

Recent Rocket Lab news…

Rocket Lab’s Photon Satellite Platform to Handle Deliveries to Moon and Beyond

As the Crow Flies … And It Did as Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket Launches Astro Digital’s Smallsat

Recent KSAT news

Alliance for SAR Satellites Formed by KSAT and Synspective

Partnership Extended between ICEYE and KSAT for SAR Solutions

Spaceflight to Launch 14 Spacecraft for Four Companies in Two Months from India’s PSLV

Spaceflight will be one busy place, in Seattle, Washington, as they make plans to schedule the launch of 14 more spacecraft from India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) this year. Payloads will launch on PSLV’s C47, C48 and C49 missions, scheduled to launch in November and December 2019 from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center. Customers aboard the missions include Analytical Space, Spire, iQPS and Kleos Space.


Analytical Space Inc.’s (ASI) second technical demonstration spacecraft, dubbed Meshbed, will be launching on PSLV C47 in November. ASI’s mission is an on-orbit demonstration intended to test technology that will enable users on Earth to gain faster access to satellite data. The spacecraft features a patented antenna from MITRE that could help enable faster access to space-based data, as well as government missions including tactical communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

PSLV C48, slated for early December, will carry Japan’s iQPS SAR microsatellite and four multi-payload Earth observation nanosatellites that add to Spire Global’s constellation of maritime, aviation and weather monitoring satellites. PSLV C49, also scheduled in December, will take Luxembourg-based Kleos’ Scouting Mission satellites, the foundational system in the company’s radio frequency monitoring constellation, and additional Spire nanosats to orbit.

Curt Blake, CEO and president of Spaceflight said that PSLV continues to be a reliable launch partner for them, enabling Spaceflight to launch a variety of customers. By the end of 2019, they will have executed 11 launches on PSLVs and sent more than 100 satellites to orbit on this vehicle. The consistency of the PSLV has played a critical role in assisting our customers, especially those launching constellations, achieve their mission and business goals.

The company’s last mission aboard this launch vehicle was PSLV C45 which deployed 21 rideshare spacecraft earlier this year. Spaceflight has completed five missions already this year, with another five planned in 2019. Other noteworthy 2019 missions include Spaceflight’s GTO-1, which deployed the first commercial lunar lander aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9, and two rideshare missions with Rocket Lab, which sent nine spacecraft to orbit. In December 2018, SSO-A, the company’s historic dedicated rideshare mission, successfully launched 64 unique smallsats, making it the single largest deployment of satellites from a U.S.-based launch vehicle.

The AFRL’s S5 Smallsat is the Focus of an On-Orbit Inspection Mission by the Organization’s Mycroft Satellite

Artistic rendition of the AFRL’s Eagle satellite. Image is courtesy of Northrop Grumman.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has started the first-ever inspection mission to support real-time, on-orbit, spacecraft anomaly resolution operations.
This effort will be a rendezvous between the experimental Mycroft satellite and a second experimental AFRL satellite called the Small Satellite Space Surveillance System, or S5. The S5, launched on February 22, 2019, is a smallsat designed to test affordable smallsat Space Situational Awareness (SSA) constellation technologies.
AFRL has experienced communication challenges with the S5 satellite and has had no communication with S5 since March 2019. Operators confirm that the spacecraft is alive and maintaining solar power by tracking the sun, but without communications, S5 cannot perform its experiments.

​A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the AFSPC-11 mission for the U.S. Air Force lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida, on April 14, 2018. The launch carried the experimental smallsat Mycroft into orbit. Photo is courtesy of ULA.

Mycroft is an AFRL-developed smallsat that was launched with the EAGLE (ESPA Augmented Geostationary Laboratory Experiment) satellite on April 14, 2018. Mycroft separated from EAGLE and drifted about 35 kilometers away before transiting carefully back to within a few kilometers of EAGLE. It has performed SSA and satellite inspection experiments over the past 18 months.

The Mycroft experiment is aimed at improving autonomous rendezvous and proximity operations, or RPO, SSA, satellite inspection and characterization, and autonomous navigation technologies.

Mycroft satellite operators will initiate a series of maneuvers to rendezvous with S5 near 6 degrees East longitude at GEO to support anomaly resolution efforts. EAGLE will also maneuver into the vicinity of the RPO to observe the inspection from a safe distance.

Mycroft will inspect the S5 satellite and provide operators with verification of the fully-deployed solar array and of the sun pointing orientation. Mycroft will then examine the exterior of the S5 spacecraft to search for damaged components such as the solar array and antennas.
The Mycroft-S5 RPO will occur in stages over a period of several weeks, demonstrating the utility of inspection and characterization capabilities in a real-world satellite recovery. AFRL is planning to transition operations to Air Force Space Command later this year.

Article source: Los Alamos Daily Post

NASA Ames Research Brings Blue Canyon Technologies Onboard for Smallsat Tech Demo Mission

Small spacecraft manufacturer and mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) has been selected by NASA’s Ames Research Center to support a technology demonstration mission called Starling, under NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program.

Under this contract agreement, BCT will design, manufacture and provide engineering support during commissioning for 4 flight-qualified 6U cubesats.

The goal of the Starling mission will be to prove out the capability of affordable, distributed spacecraft missions, or large aggregations called “swarms,” in LEO. The starling bird is famous for flying in a swarm formation.

Artistic rendition of Blue Canyon’s microsat smallsat.

Image is courtesy of the company.

As small spacecraft increase in accuracy and capability, flight-qualifying swarm technology benefits the industry as a whole by giving access to low cost, highly capable platforms that can operate from the near-Earth to the deep space environments.

Starling is expected to launch in mid-2021.

Blue Canyon’s diverse spacecraft platform has the proven capability to enable a broad range of missions and technological advances for the New Space economy, further reducing the barriers of space entry.

BCT is currently building more than 60 spacecraft for government, commercial and academic missions. The company has doubled in size over the past 12 months and plans to open its new 80,000-square-foot headquarters and production facility in 2020.

Nick Monahan, Systems Engineer at Blue Canyon Technologies, said that, ultimately, swarm technology will enable a new way to explore the vastness of space as well as the complexity of the solar system. BCT is honored to contribute to making the technology possible.

Rocket Lab’s Photon Satelligte Platform to Handle Deliveries to Moon and Beyond

Rocket Lab has unveiled plans to support extended range missions to medium, geostationary and lunar orbits with the company’s Photon satellite platform.

Less than two years after opening access to LEO for smallsats with the Electron launch vehicle, Rocket Lab is now bringing medium, geostationary, and lunar orbits within reach for small satellites. Rocket Lab will combine their Electron launch vehicle, Photon small spacecraft platform and a dedicated bulk maneuver stage to accomplish extended-range missions and deliver small spacecraft to lunar flyby, Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), L1/L2 points, or Lunar orbit. These capabilities can then be expanded to deliver even larger payloads throughout cis-lunar space, including as high as GEO.

The experience gained through multiple orbital Electron launches, and iterative performance improvements to Photon’s Curie propulsion system, enables Rocket Lab to undertake extended range missions with proven technology and significant experience. All systems for extended missions are derived from high-heritage flight-proven equipment, including the Curie engine, Kick Stage, Electron composite tanks, and demonstrated expertise in launch and spacecraft guidance, navigation and control.

Rocket Lab’s most recent mission, ‘As The Crow Flies,’ was the company’s 9th Electron launch and it saw Electron’s Kick Stage deploy a payload to an altitude of more than 1,000 km. The mission successfully demonstrated recent upgrades to the 3D-printed Curie propulsion system for Photon, including the move to a bi-propellant design for greatly improved performance.

Photon, in particular, was designed for use in both LEO and interplanetary missions, with radiation-tolerant avionics, deep space-capable communications and navigation technology, and high-performance space-storable propulsion capable of multiple restarts on orbit. The combination of Photon and Electron has been designed as a complete solution for responsive LEO, MEO and cis-lunar missions, as early as Q4 2020.

Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck, said there is increasing international interest in lunar and beyond LEO exploration from government and private sectors, noting that small satellites will play a crucial role in science and exploration, as well as providing communications and navigation infrastructure to support returning humans to the Moon – they play a vital role as pathfinders to retire risk and lay down infrastructure for future missions. Just like LEO small spacecraft, many potential exploration instruments and full satellites are on shelves waiting for launch to deeper space. In the same way the company opened access to LEO for smallsats, Rocket Lab is poised to become the dedicated ride to the Moon and beyond for small satellites.


Kleos Space’s Scouting Mission Satellites to Launch in Less Than Three Months

Kleos Space S.A (ASX:KSS, Frankfurt:KS1) has received confirmation that their Kleos Scouting Mission1 will launch via a PSLV rocket from Chennai, India, in December of 2019.

Kleos’ cluster of four satellites are confirmed as mission-ready for PSLV integration. Technical efforts have ensured the satellites will function with the dispensers for the PSLV rocket. The satellites have passed a deployer fit check which confirms the satellites conform to the PSLV requirements.

Artistic rendition of a Kleos Space smallsat on-orbit.

Image is courtesy of the company.

The Scouting Mission satellites will launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre aboard PSLV C49 (a rideshare launch including satellites from other organizations, such as Spire Global) into a 37 degree inclination to deliver optimized revisit rates over crucial shipping regions that include the Strait of Hormuz, South China Sea and East and West African coasts as compared to the original SSO.

PSLV rocket on pad.

Photo is
courtesy of ISRO.

The four-week launch preparation schedule will commence in mid-November with shipping of high purity butane satellite fuel to the launch integration facility in Chennai. While launch preparations are underway, Kleos remains focused on securing additional Government and commercial pre-order contracts and is on track to achieve first revenues in Q1 2020.

The development of Kleos’ second cluster of satellites, which will enhance data collection and increase revenues and customers, is progressing. Kleos’ Scouting Mission satellites will geolocate maritime radio frequency transmissions to provide global activity-based intelligence irrespective of the presence of AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) or any other positioning system, or when imagery is unclear and targets are out of maritime patrol range. The geolocation data will enable governments and organisations to detect hidden maritime activity such as drug and people smuggling, piracy and illegal fishing as well as identify those in need of search and rescue at sea.

Kleos CEO Andy Bowyer said that satellite launches are highly complex, requiring extensive pre-flight testing of critical functions that cannot be fast-tracked without compromising the mission. The company’s Scouting Mission satellites are mission-ready, forming the foundation of future constellations. When they launch in December, Kleos is on track to generate the firm’s first revenues in Q1 of 2020.”

1The scouting mission is comprised of 4x smallsats built by GomSpace in Denmark.


No Melt Down for SpaceApps’ ICE Cubes as they Reveal Capabilities at IAC 2019

These small but mighty satellites can travel to the International Space Station (ISS) and assist any variety of enterprises with a simple, cost-effective way to fly research, technology or any activity on-board the ISS, thus opening up the research capability of the space station to the communities that will help to develop the LEO economy.

SpaceApps is a pioneering ISS research service that enables commercial companies, educational institutions and researchers to conduct experiments in space environment, developing the LEO economy.

Space Applications Services (SpaceApps), developer and integrator of systems and payloads for the International Space Station (ISS), on-orbit servicing and lunar destinations,  will showcase its ground-breaking ICE Cubes service to delegates at IAC 2019 in Washington, DC from 21-25 October at booth 481.

ICE Cubes describes their services as a simple, cost-effective way to fly research, technology or any activity on-board the ISS, opening up the research capability of the space station to the communities that will help to develop the LEO economy. This will be critically important to ensure that the ISS remains relevant when it is opened up to commercial opportunities.

ICE Cubes provides fast access to space for any researcher, company, school and university around the world. ICE Cubes payloads (from as small as 1U) are ideal to conduct scientific experiments, perform R&D in space and pursue in-orbit demonstration and validation of technologies.

Richard Aked, CEO, SpaceApps said that making space a part of every-day value chains and businesses is vital to ensure that the LEO economy becomes viable for humanity in the future. In opening up access to this unique environment, they are allowing commercial entities as well as young people in research institutes the opportunity to see what they can do in space. It’s no longer the preserve of space agencies and huge technology companies but access is being democratized for all. It’s about real people seeing how they can benefit from space and how they develop a new future in the space environment.

Fast-track access through ICE Cubes allows the development of disruptive innovation for R&D in pharma, biotech, novel materials, food, crop science, regenerative medicine and other highly relevant areas that actively benefit humanity through LEO environment assets. The access to a space environment also allows technology companies to validate and demonstrate their technologies, processes and systems and raise related TRL levels before bringing space technologies to their respective market.

Richard continued that the beauty of the ICE Cubes service is that they are regularly delivering and returning payloads to the ISS and users can also interact in real-time with their experiments over the internet, allowing them to send commands and to receive telemetry in real-time. They look forward to seeing the incredible developments that ICE Cubes will influence.

ICE Cubes has a strategic partnership with ESA and is an accredited implementation partner with the ISS U.S. National Lab that is responsible for operating the U.S. portion of the ISS as one of the national laboratories for use by non-NASA U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector.



Planet’s Imagery Service Transitioned from the NGA to the NRO with a New Multi-Year Contract

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has transitioned the Planet commercial imagery subscription service from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to the NRO.

As part of the transition, the NRO awarded Planet an unclassified, multi-year subscription service contract for daily, large-area, 3 to 5 meter resolution commercial imagery collection.

Recognizing the importance of mission continuity, the scope of the new NRO contract is comparable to NGA’s previous contracts with Planet and includes access to new daily unclassified imagery over multiple areas of interest to military planners, warfighters, and the national security community. The transition is consistent with NGA’s and NRO’s role in exploring new and viable commercial GEOINT opportunities for national security missions.

Pete Muend, Director, NRO’s Commercial Systems Program Office, said that with its large constellation of satellites, Planet can image country — and even continent-sized areas — every day. This capability to provide daily revisit over large areas of the Earth gives analysts unparalleled opportunities to discover and monitor activity for a wide range of applications. The NRO is committed to ensuring NGA and its customers continue to have access to Planet imagery to perform the vital analysis needed to create value-added geospatial products for our partners and policy makers.

David Gauthier, Director of NGA’s Source Commercial and Business Operations Group, added that NGA’s 2016 Planet subscription played a role in the agency’s analytic transformation, where the NRO is now focused less on pixels and more on information content and services. Planet imagery demonstrated the value that daily revisit of large areas, at 3 to 5 meter resolutions, to several mission areas – especially when combined with geospatial analytics. With the transition, NGA can continue to shift its focus to emerging commercial GEOINT products and services that uniquely support our user community.

ICEYE’s Spotlight Imaging Mode Successfully Deployed and Readily Available to Customers

ICEYE has announced that the company’s recently developed Spotlight imaging mode, which enables 1 meter radar imaging from the company’s satellite constellation, is now commercially available to customers around the world.

ICEYE Spotlight imaging is purpose-built to achieve a high resolution that supports a variety of use cases for both commercial and government customers.

ICEYE Spotlight radar satellite image of the Kuwait International Airport’s new terminal under construction.

Image is courtesy of the company.

The successful deployment of Spotlight imaging for commercial customers is a major milestone for ICEYE, as well as a technological achievement. There are few comparable services available worldwide, and ICEYE is currently the only organization in the world to provide this capability as a commercial service from such small SAR microsatellites. High resolution radar imagery is especially useful for distinguishing between small objects, and in helping data users classify larger objects with more certainty. 1 meter Spotlight radar imagery is particularly useful in detailed volume monitoring of stockpiles, vehicle count monitoring, property damage estimation, and oil transshipment monitoring.

Example Spotlight SAR Data, featuring two locations in Singapore,are available for download on the ICEYE website in SLC and GRDformats.

Image is courtesy of the company.

ICEYE was the first organization in the world to develop technology that can achieve under 1 meter resolution imagery from SAR satellites under 100 kg. in mass. The latest two ICEYE SAR Satellites were launched in July of 2019. The company continues to grow its commercially available SAR satellite constellation with additional satellite launches at an increasing pace.

Pekka Laurila, CSO and Co-Founder of ICEYE, said the commodities sector is an early example where the availability of high-resolution SAR imaging can have dramatic impacts. It is now possible to track specific locations, often, with high reliability, and at an incredible level of detail. The potential benefits for our early users are immense, as the competitive edge our data provides is still very fresh in the market.

Rafal Modrzewski, CEO and Co-Founder of ICEYE, commented that the company and its partners are in a unique position in the world with this new commercial availability of high-resolution radar satellite data.


Narrow-Band IoT Successfully Tested by OQ Technology Using a Smallsat

OQ Technology, a Luxembourg-based satellite IoT and M2M service company, has successfully tested Narrow-Band IoT waveforms and synchronization procedures using a third-party smallsat.

The Tiger mission, which was approved and signed on July 26, 2019, demonstrates that NB-IoT technology can be used on flying Software-Defined Radio (SDR) payloads by uploading the waveforms to test the performance, paving the way for using Software-Defined Radio payloads as a service to provide connectivity.

The satellites used are GOMX-4A and GOMX-4B from GomSpace. NB-IoT is a Low Power Wide Area Network radio technology standard developed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Program (3GPP) to enable a global standard for IoT and M2M connectivity as a part of its Release 13 specifications (LTE Advanced Pro) in June 2016.

Artistic rendition of GomSpace smallsats on-orbit.

Image is courtesy of the company.

As of 2019, the Global mobile Suppliers Association has identified more than 160 operators across 69 countries investing NB-IoT network technologies. The 3GPP ecosystem is a global consortium backed by several telecommunication associations from countries such as Japan, USA, China, Europe, India, South Korea, and contributions coming from more than 680 individual member companies such as Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson, Apple, Google, ZTE, Huawei, NEC, Samsung, AT&T, Verizon, etc. that sell equipment, chipsets, software, handsets connectivity and other services in the global telecommunications market.

As a natural evolution of technology and market trends, 3GPP has foreseen the growing demand for global IoT connectivity and has retained NB-IoT as a part of its 5G standards (Release 15) and is working towards expanding the technology’s potential using Non-terrestrial Network (NTN) services for its release 17 which is expected to be rolled out by 2021/2022. NTN services leverage the use of non-terrestrial entities such as satellites in LEO, MEO, GEO, High Altitude Platforms and drones to extend coverage, service and capacity for mobile telephony, IoT and M2M connectivity.

OQ Technology began working on cutting edge R&D in 2016 to provide NB-IoT connectivity over LEO satellite, a standard with worldwide ecosystem and backed up by a global mobile standardization body. OQ Technology is targeting the cellular IoT communication market, as well as the Oil & Gas, Maritime, Industry 4.0, and Transport segments, particularly for the management and tracking of assets in remote areas. Whether this is digital oilfield applications, offshore monitoring, SCADA applications, asset tracking, fleet management, smart metering or predictive maintenance.

NB-IoT is a challenge for LEO due to high Doppler and delay environments. OQ Technology has successfully performed a “first-in-the-world” test of a 5G IoT technology over cubesats, and a “first” in using Orthogonal-Frequency-Division Multiple Access waveforms in a smallsat. OQ Technology will further experiments as a part of the Tiger mission over the next 3 months to optimize the link and system performance. OQ Technology aims to be a global 5G massive machine-type communications service provider to enable mobile operators extend their coverage beyond urban areas. The technology development has been partly supported by Luxembourg government through the LuxIMPULSE program.