Momentus Awarded SBIR Contract by U.S. Air Force

Momentus has been awarded of a U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract to accelerate innovations for in-space transportation services and satellite upper stage technologies.

The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and AFWERX have partnered to streamline the SBIR process in an attempt to speed up the experience, broaden the pool of potential applicants and decrease bureaucratic overhead. Beginning in SBIR 18.2, and now in 19.3, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) has begun offering “Special” SBIR topics that are faster, leaner and open to a broader range of innovations.

A graduate of the prestigious Y Combinator program, and based in Santa Clara, California, Momentus raised $40M of equity funding, including a $25.5M Series A in 2019. Momentus has created new patent-pending and proprietary technologies, including a water plasma propulsion system that eliminates HAZMAT concerns and provides rapid, affordable, and revolutionary launch deployment technologies and in-space shuttle services. A 16U demonstration mission, “El Camino Real”, was launched and tested in 2019. Two demo missions of the Vigoride transfer vehicle will fly in 2020, paving the way for commercial mission beginning in 2021 onward.

Mikhail Kokorich, CEO of Momentus, stated that the company is honored to have been selected by the U.S. Air Force for this SBIR 19.3 award. By partnering with the Air Force through the SBIR program, Momentus can bring unique in-space transportation solutions to the Air Force for faster deployment of new missions and new ways to improve space resiliency and space access. The company’s Phase I study will identify Air Force missions where Momentus’ space vehicles can be used to transport satellites to unique and/or more precise orbits.

 

Rocket Lab Successfully Sends NRO’s Top Secret Satellite to Orbit via the Electron Launch Vehicle

Rocket Lab has successfully launched their dedicated ‘Birds of a Feather‘ mission carrying a top secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), with the smallsat lifting off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 located on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, the 11th Electron rocket launch for the company — the mission was designed NROL-151 by the agency.


An Electron rocket lifts the NROL top secret smallsat to orbit.

Photo is courtesy of Rocket Lab.

The NRO competitively awarded this contract to Rocket Lab under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle. RASR allows the NRO to explore new launch opportunities that can provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space.

The CEO of Rocket Lab, Peter Beck, using the firm’s Twitter account, confirmed that the NRO payload was successfully released into orbit and that such was a proud moment for the entire company launch team.


The Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle boosting the National Reconnaissance Agency’s top secret smallsat to orbit.

Photo is courtesy of the company.

Rocket Lab has been launching to orbit since January 2018 and is, according to the firm, now the world’s leading dedicated smallsat launch provider, adding that the firm remains the only launch provider capable of meeting the rapid-acquisition and launch requirements of dedicated smallsat missions for the U.S. government. Rocket Lab has delivered 47 satellites to orbit on the Electron launch vehicle, enabling operations in space debris mitigation, Earth Observation (EO), ship and airplane tracking, and radio communications.

Rocket Lab’s Senior Vice President – Global Launch Services, Lars Hoffman, said prior to the launch that the Electron vehicle is uniquely placed to deliver the kind of frequent, rapidly-acquired launch opportunities required by the NRO and other government agencies to ensure resiliency in space.

He noted that the company is honored that Rocket Lab was selected as as the launch provider for this dedicated mission. The Electron launch vehicle is perfectly positioned to provide the kind of rapid and responsive access to space that puts the NRO in complete control over their own launch schedule and orbital requirements. As the industry shifts toward the disaggregation of large, geostationary spacecraft, Electron enables unprecedented access to space to support a resilient layer of government small satellite infrastructure.

 

Rocket Lab’s ‘Birds of a Feather’ Mission is Ready for National Reconnaissance Office

Rocket Lab announced their first flight for the new year. They are targeting the launch no earlier than 12:00 am, Friday, January 31, UTC for the launch of ‘Birds of a Feather’, a dedicated launch for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and Rocket Lab’s first launch of 2020. 

The launch will take place from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. 

A four hour window has been allocated for launch. 

Launch Window Timezone Conversion: 

  • UTC: 00:00 – 04:00 (31 Jan)
  • NZDT: 13:00 – 17:00 (31 Jan)
  • PST: 16:00 – 20:00 (30 Jan)
  • EDT: 19:00 – 23:00 (30 Jan)

If Rocket Lab needs to stand down from launch for any reason, they have back-up launch days available through February 13. 

Birds Of A Feather is a dedicated mission for the NRO. It is Rocket Lab’s 11th mission overall, and the first Electron launch of 2020. The NRO competitively awarded the contract under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle, which allows the NRO to explore new launch opportunities that can provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space.

For this mission, they’ll once again be attempting a guided re-entry of Electron’s first stage through Earth’s atmosphere — a successful maneuver they achieved during their most recent mission, Running Out Of Fingers, in December 2019.

A reaction control system on the booster will orient the first stage 180-degrees during its atmospheric re-entry, to better enable it to survive incredible heat and pressure during its descent. For this mission, a camera on stage one will attempt to document the re-entry view.
This view will be available during the launch webcast, however a telemetry dropout is expected at approx. 30km altitude, resulting in an anticipated loss of video. Other aspects designed to support recovery efforts on this mission include updated guidance and navigation systems, including S-band telemetry and onboard flight computer systems, to gather and transmit data throughout the first stage’s descent.

You can find more information about the mission in the press kit attached and at: www.rocketlabusa.com/missions/next-mission/
Watch Live:
A live webcast will be available approximately 15-20 minutes prior to the target T-0 time at www.rocketlabusa.com/live-stream. 

The mission will demonstrate Rocket Lab’s unique capability to provide frequent and rapidly-acquired launch opportunities for U.S. government small satellite missions 

The NRO competitively awarded the contract under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle. RASR allows the NRO to explore new launch opportunities that can provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space.

Rocket Lab’s Senior Vice President – Global Launch Services, Lars Hoffman, says the Electron vehicle is uniquely placed to deliver the kind of frequent, rapidly-acquired launch opportunities required by the NRO and other government agencies to ensure resiliency in space.

Mr. Hoffman says said that they are honored the NRO has selected Rocket Lab as the launch provider for this dedicated mission. The Electron launch vehicle is perfectly positioned to provide the kind of rapid and responsive access to space that puts the NRO in complete control over their own launch schedule and orbital requirements. As the industry shifts toward the disaggregation of large, geostationary spacecraft, Electron enables unprecedented access to space to support a resilient layer of government small satellite infrastructure.”

Rocket Lab has been launching to orbit since January 2018 and is now the world’s leading dedicated small satellite launch provider. Rocket Lab remains the only launch provider capable of meeting the rapid-acquisition and launch requirements of dedicated small satellite missions for the U.S. government. Rocket Lab has delivered 47 satellites to orbit on the Electron launch vehicle, enabling operations in space debris mitigation, Earth observation, ship and airplane tracking, and radio communications

 

 

OneWeb Scheduled to Launch 34 Satellites Via Arianespace @ Baikonur Cosmodrome

OneWeb has confirmed the company’s upcoming launch of 34 satellites for Thursday, February 6, at 2142 (GMT) / Friday February 7 0242 (local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

This event marks the start of a regular launch campaign during 2020 that will rapidly grow OneWeb’s first phase constellation of 648 satellites and represents one of the largest civilian satellite launch campaigns in history. Each satellite forms an integral part of the high-speed global satellite broadband network and together will activate OneWeb’s first customer demos by the end of 2020 to provide full commercial global services for sectors such as maritime, aviation, government and enterprise in 2021.

In this first OneWeb launch of 2020, 34 satellites will be aboard a Soyuz launch vehicle. Arianespace will perform the launch, which will place the satellites into a near polar orbit at an initial altitude of 450 kilometers from where they will rise to their final orbit of 1,200 kilometers and form part of OneWeb’s global communications network. All the satellites are manufactured by OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space.

OneWeb has selected the theme Space for Everyone for the first launch of its 2020 Launch Program, showing how Space is becoming more relevant to everyday life as an important source of connectivity. In collaboration with governments, investors and distribution partners, OneWeb will bring its customers a new experience of connectivity together with social, educational and sustainability benefits. OneWeb’s vision is to see every school connected and it continues to be committed to tackling the digital divide that exists between the connected and unconnected.

Follow #OneWebLaunch on OneWeb social media channels: YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.

Webcast For live transmission of the launch (with English commentary) go to: www.oneweb.world or OneWeb on YouTube

Space Networking Solution for Smallsats Unveiled by Tethers Unlimited

Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) has delivered the first mesh network inter-satellite crosslink solution for smallsats.

TUI’s SWIFT-LINQ™ network is a software ‘app’ that runs on TUI’s SWIFT® flight-heritage software defined radios to connect satellite constellations, clusters, and formations together with a resilient, adaptable mesh network.  SWIFT-LINQ supports standard TCP/IP protocols to enable seamless, straightforward data transfer between satellites.


TUI’s SWIFT-LINQ network enables smallsats to easily share data and resources.

Image is courtesy of the company.

Satellites connected via SWIFT-LINQ can share resources and data, empowering groups of low-cost small satellites to perform missions that traditionally would have required large, very expensive satellites.  TUI delivered the SWIFT-LINQ app to a confidential customer, loaded on three S-band SWIFT radios that will fly on a trio of small satellites scheduled for launch in 2020.

The SWIFT-LINQ mesh networking functionality supports communications resiliency for satellites. With SWIFT-LINQ, each satellite becomes a node in the network, with a unique IP address. Satellites that are out of range of one another can use other satellites to bridge together and continue communicating and sharing data with one another.

Additionally, the mesh network adapts to changing conditions, such as when satellites come in and out of range, automatically rerouting traffic to ensure timely data delivery. Unlike traditional satellite communications that require a direct link with a ground antenna to communicate, SWIFT-LINQ can provide redundant communications paths and act as a data relay to extend ground contact windows.  SWIFT-LINQ uses TCP/IP and UDP/IP protocols to route information from one node to the next, making satellite interconnectivity as easy as connecting a laptop to WIFI. All messages are secured with encryption to ensure only the proper node gets the correct information.

Dr. Rob Hoyt, TUI’s CEO, stated that now that the SWIFT Software Defined Radio is mature and demonstrated on-orbit, the company is building out a family of ‘apps’ that will increase the utility of the platform to satellite operators as well as enable the firm to roll out new services for resilient, secure, and efficient satellite communications. The recently-delivered solution will connect three satellites into a mesh network with data transfer at rates of 48 kbps and work is underway to enable future SWIFT-LINQ systems to network together hundreds of satellites, UAVs, and ground systems.

TUI GM, Seckin Secilmis, added that the company is upgrading the system to even higher speeds and deliver even more capability. The modern smart phone had to start somewhere and these humble beginnings are a very necessary step to allowing the company to understand the interactions between wirelessly connected nodes in space.

Kepler Initiates Smallsat Builds In-House

Kepler Communications begins their smallsat production in the firm’s newly commissioned satellite manufacturing facility in Toronto, Canada. This is an essential step toward delivering the company’s proposed fleet of 140 satellites for high-capacity global connectivity services with applications in maritime, agriculture, research and exploration, government, and transportation.


(From left to right) Damien Sablijak (Kepler Hardware Engineer Intern), Chris Summers (Kepler Assembly Technician), Walter Peruzzini (CSA Head of STDP Program), Mina Mitry (Kepler CEO), Tony Pellerin (CSA Manager for Space Exploration Systems Engineering) and Shehroz Hussain (Kepler Manufacturing Systems Engineering). In-part through the CSA’s STDP program, Kepler was able to hire Damien, Chris, and Shehroz to work in the manufacturing facility.

Photo is courtesy of the company.

Kepler currently operates two smallsats on-orbit, ones that became the world’s first satellites to deliver high-speed connectivity to the North Pole in November last year. Rather than contracting from third parties, the new facility will allow the company to vertically integrate the development, production and testing of its future spacecraft. It will also speed up the build-out of Kepler’s constellation to bring connectivity in areas that are currently underserved by terrestrial networks.

The new facility will significantly benefit the local economy with the opening of new high-tech jobs in Toronto, creating opportunities for local talent and strengthening the role of Canada in the aerospace manufacturing industry as a whole. Millions in capital will be invested into the city, benefiting the Canadian partners and suppliers who support Kepler’s expanding operations and growing teams.

Increasing demand from new commercial space companies has placed a greater strain on satellite manufacturing in the last 20 years. Greater numbers of new satellites, funded through commercial investment and government contracts, have congested the supply chain. Coupled with expectations of an exponential increase in commercial launch activity in the near future, more satellite manufacturing capacity than ever is needed to meet market demand.

With the opening of its manufacturing facility, Kepler will be among the few commercial space companies that operate with vertically integrated production. In doing so, the company will establish the foundation to meet performance and economic targets and ensure a fully operable constellation by the end of 2022.

Leveraging a partnership with SFL, and with recent funding from the Canadian Space Agency’s Space Technology Development Program, Kepler has optimized its new high-performance satellite platform for production in large quantities.

Kepler’s final demonstration satellite is scheduled for launch in the spring of 2020, closely followed by the launch of its first two, Toronto-built, commercial-grade satellites in the summer. Two more satellite batches are planned for launch before the end of the year on the SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicles.

Kepler’s CEO and co-founder, Mina Mitry, said the company recognized early on that the smallsat industry has a significant challenge ahead in maturing the supply chain for various components and subsystems. At Kepler, steps are being taken to ensure the firm can reach the required cost and performance targets. This is a necessary step to deliver on Kepler’s promise of affordable, global connectivity on Earth and in space. With this new facility in place, the company solves a key challenge to scaling this business – the mass production of highly capable spacecraft. Leveraging Kepler’s unique partnerships, the satellites we produce will fly systems that have decades of learning embedded into them. This facility will bring many highly capable Kepler satellites to life at unmatched costs and help us deliver service globally.

Encore for AAC Clyde Space … NSLComm’s 15 MSEK (GBP 1.2 million) Contract for Satellite 


Photo courtesy NSLComm

AAC Clyde Space will be providing one 6U satellite and services, with a total value of approximately 15 MSEK (GBP 1.2 million) to the Israeli company, NSLComm, which also appointed AAC Clyde Space as their “preferred supplier” in its planned satellite constellation. 

AAC Clyde Space delivered a 6U satellite to NSLComm during 2019 that carries a 60-centimeter dish antenna, and has achieved most of its mission goals, and is communicating at all frequencies. The new satellite, NSLSat-2, is the first satellite of an intended commercial constellation.

AAC Clyde Space will manufacture, launch, commission, operate the satellite and deliver a ground segment software solution. The satellite is planned to launch in Q3 2021.

AAC Clyde Space CEO Luis Gomes said that NSLComm is spearheading high throughput communication from nanosatellites. They are delighted to partner with them in this project, taking nanosatellite-based services even further.

 

An EO Contract Received by QinetiQ from ESA for Smallsat Development

QinetiQ’s space business has confirmed it has secured a major new contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to extend Europe’s capabilities in operational Earth Observation (EO).

The new 75 million euros contract will see the company develop and assemble the ALTIUS satellite at its new state-of-the-art cleanroom facilities in Kruibeke, in Belgium.

The Atmospheric Limb Tracker for Investigation of the Upcoming Stratosphere (ALTIUS) is a satellite mission that will monitor and map the distribution and evolution of stratospheric ozone at a very high vertical resolution. Due for launch from French Guyana by the end of 2023, the satellite will use advanced spectral imaging technologies to monitor the Earth’s atmospheric limb in the Near Ultraviolet, Visible, and Near Infrared spectral regions.


Artistic rendition of the ALTIUS satellite.

Image is courtesy of the European Space Agency.

ALTIUS is under the ESA Earth Watch Program, with the objective of developing new scientific EO satellite missions and data exploitation schemes to advance science and knowledge of the planet.

The ALTIUS satellite will be built on QinetiQ’s versatile P200 platform, the latest generation of the highly successful PROBA platform. It has demonstrated excellent performance on previous space missions and accumulated more than 35 years in orbit.

The new satellite will also feature QinetiQ’s ADPMS-3 avionics, two deployable solar wings and a propulsion system that will allow for orbit maintenance and will de-orbit at the end of its life. The mission lifetime is envisaged to be of minimum 3 years.


Pictured is an engineering view of QuinetiQ’s P200 platform.

Photo is courtesy of the company.

Jim Graham, Managing Director of QinetiQ’s space business, said the company is delighted to be playing such a key role on this important program. Detailed monitoring of stratospheric ozone is vital and will support both broader operational services as well as long-term trend monitoring and scientific understanding of the atmosphere to help address serious concerns about the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

By also measuring greenhouse gasses, it will help to produce definitive atmospheric models to support more informed decision-making. Securing this significant contract is a great way to start an exciting new decade for space exploration and observation, and reflects the firm’s capabilities and experience as a prime – managing a consortium of companies from Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, and Romania – and reliable systems integrator for delivering effective end-to-end mission solutions.

Successful Space Debris Demo Performed On-Orbit by Tethers Unlimited

Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) has successfully demonstrated on-orbit operation of the Terminator Tape, an affordable, lightweight solution for removing space debris from on-orbit.

In early September of 2019, an automated timer unit on the Prox-1 satellite, launched in late June 2019 by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s University Nanosatellite Program, activated deployment of TUI’s Terminator Tape module. The Terminator Tape is a small module, weighing less than two pounds and about the size of a notebook, designed to attach to the exterior of a satellite.


The Terminator Tape Deorbit Module interacts with the space environment to rapidly drag a satellite out of orbit.

Image is courtesy of Tethers Unlimited.

When the satellite has completed its mission and is ready to be disposed of, an electrical signal from either the satellite or an independent timer unit will activate the Terminator Tape, causing it to deploy a 230-foot long conductive tape from the satellite. This tape interacts with the space environment to create a drag force on the satellite that lowers its orbit far more rapidly than it would if it were simply abandoned in orbit.

TUI is currently collaborating  with Millennium Space Systems, TriSept, and RocketLab to prepare a scientific method-based LEO flight experiment called “DRAGRACER” which will compare the de-orbit of two identical satellites, one with and one without a Terminator Tape, in order to enable robust characterization of the tape’s performance.

Dr. Rob Hoyt, TUI’s CEO, said that three months after launch, as planned, the company’s timer unit commanded the Terminator Tape to deploy and from observations by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network that the satellite immediately began de-orbiting over 24x faster, instead of remaining on-orbit for hundreds of years. Rapidly removing dead satellites in this manner will help to combat the growing space debris problem. This successful test proves that this lightweight and low-cost technology is an effective means for satellite programs to meet orbital debris mitigation requirements.

 

New SAR Smallsat Platform Debuts from Capella Space

Capella Space has unveiled their evolved satellite design to enable on-demand observations of any location on Earth.


Capella Space SAR smallsat to Deliver high resolution, on-demand EO data.

Artistic rendition is courtesy of the company.

Informed by extensive customer feedback and findings from the launch of Denali, Capella’s testbed satellite, the re-engineered design features a suite of technological innovations to deliver timely, flexible and frequent sub-0.5 meter very high quality images to the market. According to the company, the enhanced technology package will deliver the most advanced offering for small satellite SAR imagery on the market. The satellite evolution is a direct result of customer feedback, extensive on-orbit testing with Capella’s first testbed satellite Denali, as well as ground-based testing.

Satellite enhancements include:

  • Advanced design delivering high contrast, low-noise, sub-0.5 meter imagery: A 3.5 meter deployed mesh-based reflector antenna combined with a high power RADAR enable key performance improvements including quality advances.
     
  • Extended duty cycle: A deployed 400 W solar array increases on-orbit duty cycle to 10 minutes per orbit.
     
  • Continuous imaging over long distance: Advanced thermal management systems allow continuous imaging of up to 4000 km long strip images.
     
  • Highly agile platform: Enabled by large reaction wheels, the new satellite quickly adjusts pointing to collect images from diverse targets.
     
  • Staring spotlight image mode: New mode further enhances image quality with the ability to collect the highest commercially available multi-look data.
     
  • Enhanced data downlink rate: A high average data rate downlink of 1.2 Gbps supports the massive image collection rate and extended duty cycle, providing more data per orbit than any other commercial SAR system in its class.
     
  • Real-time tasking: A highly secure encrypted two-way link with Inmarsat through an exclusive partnership with Addvalue provides real time tasking capability for the entire Capella constellation.

 

The new satellite design cemented major deals with multiple divisions of the U.S. government, including a contract with the U.S. Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The technological enhancements will be embedded in Capella’s next six commercial satellites, named the “Whitney” constellation, starting with the launch of Sequoia slated for March of 2020. The Sequoia satellite is currently completing system level tests and will arrive at the launch site in early March.

Capella is also licensed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for its 36 small satellite constellation, along with approval to sell the highest resolution legally allowed SAR commercial imagery to customers globally.

Christian Lenz, VP of Engineering at Capella Space, said the firm’s customers have spoken: today’s industry standard of waiting eight hours to receive data is woefully outdated. They want access to imagery that is reliable, timely and, most importantly, high-quality. The innovations packed into Capella’s small satellite make Capella the first and only SAR provider to provide real-time tasking and capture of sub-0.5 meter, very high-quality imagery anywhere on Earth at any time. This is a game-changer for a variety of industries—from monitoring military threats to assessing crop yields in agriculture to coordinating disaster response.