Orbit Logic Dealt Into DARPA’s Blackjack Team

Orbit Logic has announced that the company is a member of the Scientific Systems Company, Inc. (SSCI), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Blackjack Pit Boss team.

The DARPA Blackjack program aims to demonstrate the capabilities of a Proliferated Low Earth orbit (P-LEO) system through a variety of on-orbit experiments using 20, low-cost smallsats, each carrying payloads relevant to select military missions.

Pit Boss is the computing and encryption hardware and modular software element of Blackjack that is intended to enable Tasking, Collection, Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (TCPED) to occur autonomously on-orbit within the P-LEO constellation at mission speed.

Orbit Logic is contributing software and engineering services for both ground software and flight software portions of SSCI’s Pit Boss solution.

Orbit Logic will provide space system autonomy software expertise to the SSCI team with knowledge derived from development of their Autonomous Planning System (APS) flight software and SpyMeSat ground software. APS enables autonomous onboard planning and re-planning in response to data requests and events, including coordination between satellites.

Orbit Logic’s SpyMeSat is a commercially available mobile app that enables users with the ability to browse and request commercial imagery data products and request new imagery tasks, while providing situational awareness of all on-orbit assets.

SSCI VP of Research and Development, Dr. Owen Brown, said that the company is incredibly fortunate to have Orbit Logic as a part of the team. Their proven space software products and innovative, highly experienced engineering staff are vital assets for the firm’s development of a complex, first of its kind, autonomy system for satellite constellations.

Alba Orbital Introduces Turn-Key Ground Station System

Alba Orbital has unveiled AlbaConnect, a new Rapidly Deployable combined UHF/S Band Ground Station System for a global satellite network that allows clients to control satellite communications and process data without having to worry about building, leasing or managing their own satellite ground station infrastructure.

The AlbaConnect service provides secure satellite access and an affordable turn-key solution to satellite communications optimized for smallsats in LEO using UHF/S Band frequencies, democratizing access to space in the process.

Customers can either buy access to Alba Orbital’s own infrastructure or can purchase their own Rapidly Deployable Ground Station at a competitive price.

The features and benefits of AlbaConnect include…

  • A complete ground station solution for those looking to communicate with LEO satellites
  • A steerable UHF/S-Band antenna system
  • Compact, portable and rapidly deployable setup
  • Capable of delivering telemetry, tracking and control to users during the complete satellite lifespan


Tom Walkinshaw, CEO and Founder at Alba Orbital Ltd, said that as accessing ground stations or other ground infrastructure is expensive, the company aims to provide a commercially viable alternative to this at a competitive price by developing and supporting global satellite ground infrastructure development. AlbaConnect fills in the gaps for teams looking to deploy their MVPs in orbit for the first time.

Firefly Aerospace Executes a Launch Services Agreement with SATLANTIS

Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (Firefly) has executed a Launch Services Agreement with SATLANTIS, a provider of high-performance payload technologies for Earth Observation (EO) and remote sensing.

Starting in 2022, SATLANTIS will use the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle to deploy a constellation of satellites with breakthrough high-resolution multi-spectral cameras with four bands of 80 cm. native resolution.

Firefly CEO Dr. Tom Markusic said SATLANTIS is constantly developing cutting-edge technologies to support the growing need for high-accuracy and high-revisit Earth Observation. The Firefly Alpha was specifically designed to support the new wave of LEO observation constellations and the company is  pleased to be selected by SATLANTIS to provide launch services for their constellation.”

SATLANTIS CEO Juan Hernani noted that the company’s efforts are aimed at providing governments, national space agencies and industries seeking space capabilities with unparalleled access to high-quality Earth Observation data, without the need to develop costly programs of their own. This partnership with Firefly complements SATLANTIS strategy to deliver these products – by providing cost-efficient, on-demand launch services to meet the stringent orbit and revisit requirements of the SATLANTIS constellation.

Arianespace’s Successful Launch of 34 Satellites for OneWeb to Ensure Internet for All

A year after orbiting the first six OneWeb satellites, Arianespace has launched another batch — involving 34 satellites this time — to help its customers offer global internet access to all.

Arianespace will carry out 19 more Soyuz launches — along with the Ariane 62 version’s first flight — at the service of OneWeb, with these flights performed from three different space centers and occurring primarily during 2020 and 2021.

Today’s mission was the 50th Soyuz launch operated by Arianespace and Starsem, as well as the second successful mission for Arianespace in 2020. The cluster of spacecraft — produced by the OneWeb Satellites joint venture of OneWeb and Airbus — was deployed into a circular low Earth orbit during a flight lasting 3 hours and 45 minutes from liftoff to final payload separation. It was conducted by Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate.

After an initial powered phase of Soyuz’ three lower stages, the flight — designated ST27 in Arianespace’s numbering system — included two burns of the Fregat upper stage to place its passengers at their targeted deployment points. Total lift performance was estimated at 5,504 kg.

Flight ST27 was Arianespace’s second launch on behalf of the global satellite operator — following the February 2019 Soyuz mission from French Guiana that successfully orbited OneWeb’s first six satellites. The company’s initial constellation is based on approximately 650 satellites and will scale to more than 900 as it grows to meet demand around the world.

Following the launch, Stéphane Israël, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, said: “With this second successful mission for OneWeb, Arianespace reaffirms its role as the operator’s strategic partner and prepares itself for numerous other launches. They will allowed our customer to achieve its goal of providing truly global internet coverage. Thanks to its complete family of launchers, both current (Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega) and future (Ariane 6 and Vega C), Arianespace ensure a predominant role in the fast-growing market for constellation launches — whether for navigation, communications or Earth observation satellites.”

Today’s launch, the 27th Soyuz mission carried out by Arianespace and Starsem from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, injected 34 OneWeb satellites into orbit, bringing the total to 40. Liftoff was on Friday, February 7, 2020 at 2:42 a.m. local time (21:42 UTC on February 6).

The first six satellites in the OneWeb constellation were successfully orbited by Arianespace a year ago, in February 2019. Nineteen more Soyuz launches for this constellation will be carried out from three space centers (Kourou in French Guiana, Baikonur and Vostochny in Russia), along with the first Ariane 62 launch — with the missions taking place primarily in 2020 and 2021.

OneWeb will start customer demonstrations in 2020 and will offer global 24/7 coverage starting in 2021.

The OneWeb satellite operator intends to provide communications services across the planet by utilizing its constellation of new-generation satellites, which will provide seamless connectivity for everybody, anywhere in the world. 

OneWeb therefore is deploying a network of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) to provide low-latency broadband services to a wide array of markets, including the aeronautical and maritime sectors, cellular network links, community Wi-Fi and emergency communications services. The operator’s primary objectives include providing connectivity for schools and reducing the digital divide around the world.

OneWeb Satellites — a joint venture founded by OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space — is prime contractor for the constellation. Built in Florida on a dedicated production line, the payloads for this latest launch are the seventh to 40th OneWeb satellites orbited by Arianespace.

The 27th Soyuz launch (using a Soyuz-Fregat version) performed by Arianespace and Starsem from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan also was the 50th carried out by these two companies since 1999, and the 1,917th flight overall for the Russian launch vehicle since its introduction in 1966.

This new launch brings to 147 the number of satellites launched by Arianespace for constellations: 56 for the operator Globalstar, 40 for the OneWeb system, 20 for the O3b constellation, four for the company Planet, and one for the Orbcomm network. The total also includes the launch of 26 satellites for the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission within the scope of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation program.

In addition to the OneWeb satellites, Arianespace’s order book backlog includes 16 other constellation satellites for the following operators: Spire (8), Airbus Defense and Space (4), ESA and the European Commission (4). 


Firefly Aerospace Will Launch SATLANTIS’ Constellation of Satellites

Firefly Aerospace will be providing launch services for SATLANTIS which beginning in 2022, SATLANTIS will use the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle to deploy a constellation of satellites with breakthrough high-resolution multispectral cameras with four bands of 80 cm native resolution. SATLANTIS provides high-performance payload technologies for Earth observation and remote sensing. 

Space Imagers: A broad catalog of high resolution multispectral cameras

Firefly CEO Dr. Tom Markusic said that SATLANTIS is constantly developing cutting-edge technologies to support the growing need for high-accuracy and high-revisit Earth observation. The Firefly Alpha was specifically designed to support the new wave of low Earth orbit observation constellations and they are pleased to be selected by SATLANTIS to provide launch services for their constellation. 

SATLANTIS CEO Juan Hernan said that SATLANTIS efforts are aimed at providing governments, national space agencies, and industries seeking space capabilities with unparalleled access to high-quality Earth observation data, without the need to develop costly programs of their own. Their partnership with Firefly complements SATLANTIS strategy to deliver these products — by providing cost-efficient, on-demand launch services to meet the stringent orbit and revisit requirements of their constellation. 

Alona Kolisnyk, Firefly Director of International Business Development, added that the have worked closely with SATLANTIS to ensure that they will be able to structure the multiple missions required to deliver their spacecraft to the inclinations of their choosing, on the schedule they require in order to achieve their business goals. They look forward to many successful missions together.


SSTL Enters the Implementation Phase for the Lunar Pathfinder Mission

Following the European Space Agency Ministerial Council Space19+ meeting in Seville, the UK Space Agency confirmed they will invest £374 million per year with ESA and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) announced their kick-off for the implementation phase of the firm’s Lunar data-relay spacecraft, Lunar Pathfinder.

The Lunar Pathfinder spacecraft is designed to provide affordable communications services to lunar missions via S-band and UHF links to lunar assets on the surface and in orbit around the Moon, and an X-band link to Earth.

As early as Q4 2022, the 280 kg. Lunar Pathfinder spacecraft will be a mission enabler for polar and far-side missions, which, without direct line of sight of the Earth, would otherwise have to procure their own communications relay spacecraft.

Artistic rendition of the Lunar Pathfinder smallsat.

Image is courtesy of SSTL.

Lunar Pathfinder is a more cost effective alternative to Direct-to-Earth solutions and a credible alternative to institutional deep-space ground stations, offering orbiters and near-side missions a better availability, enhanced safety and improved data-rate.

To support booming demand from Lunar missions and a clear goal in the scientific community to undertake detailed study and analysis of the Aitken Basin, Lunar Pathfinder intends to operate in a stable elliptical orbit to provide long duration visibility of the Southern Lunar Hemisphere each day, with maximum opportunities for the transmission and reception of data between Earth and the lunar surface.

NASA’s Artemis program also calls for “landing the first American woman and next American man at the South Pole of the Moon by 2024, followed by a sustained presence on and around the Moon by 2028” and Lunar Pathfinder is accordingly working toward a launch in Q4 2022 to support early NASA missions.

In parallel to the Lunar Pathfinder mission, SSTL has been working on future plans for a constellation of spacecraft around the Moon that will be capable of providing enhanced communications, as well as navigation services for the Lunar market as it grows from exploration to commercial exploitation and even tourism.

Acting both as technology and service demonstrator, Lunar Pathfinder is the opportunity for scientific and commercial mission developers to support the development, test and standardization of Lunar communication infrastructure, and for emerging off-planet telcos to acquire experience of lunar asset operations and off-planet service delivery.

Infographic of the Lunar Pathfinder mission.

Image is courtesy of SSTL.

Lunar Pathfinder is laying the foundation to support sustainable science and exploration for the next twenty years and beyond—bringing with it the possibility that when humans next set foot on the Moon we will be hearing not “Houston we’ve landed” but instead “Guildford

Phil Brownnett, SSTL’s Managing Director said  that Lunar Pathfinder will be the first commercial service to address the need for data relay around the Moon and will demonstrate an innovative business idea and the company fully expect sit to also stimulate the emerging Lunar market. By pioneering a commercial solution and service delivery model in lunar orbit, SSTL and ESA are opening the door to providing services to the solar system and contributing to the scientific progress of deep space exploration.

David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration commented that the Moon is a cornerstone of ESA’s exploration strategy. This decade, humans and robots will visit uncharted territory and return with new discoveries—communications is key to send scientific and operational data to Earth. ESA is returning to the Moon with commercial and international partners, and the Lunar Pathfinder mission will be an integral part of these missions.

EXOLAUNCH to Lift Four Spire Global Smallsats to Orbit via an Indian PSLV Launch Vehicle

During the SmallSat Symposium now in session in Mountain View, California, Exolaunch announced their intention to manage the lift of four, Spire Global cubesats into LEO via an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) later this year.

Exolaunch is integrating the Spire smallsats into EXOpod, which is a deployer that is large enough to contain 12 single cubesats. Plus, Exolaunch is providing launch services and technical support for the Spire mission. Exolaunch has helped to deploy about one-third of Spire’s on-orbit constellation and has launched more than 100 cubesats, with some 80 spacecraft now on-orbit.

This mission will also serve as a cooperation conduit between the company and Indian launch services provider, New Space India Ltd. (NSIL)—the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). NSIL was established in 2019 to provide commercial customers with access to Indian launch vehicles.

Robert Sproles, Spire director of Ground Stations and Launch, said that the company first launched to an equatorial orbit on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle mission in 2015. The firm is excited to again be launching to a low inclination orbit with NSIL, this time through Exolaunch. Exolaunch has been a long-standing consistent launch partner for Spire.

Jeanne Medvedeva, Exolaunch Commercial Director, added that Spire is the firm’s long-time, valued customer and they ensure their satellites can reach a variety of orbits. For this launch, Exolaunch improved the firm’s EXOpod deployer by reducing its mass while also increasing its available satellite mass. The company is also looking forward to the start of an important cooperation with the NSIL team, who broadens the commercial horizons for PSLV launches.

Radhakrishnan Durairaj, NSIL’s Executive Director, noted that the company thrives to make space access affordable to commercial satellites using ISRO’s launch vehicles, including the PSLV, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark 3 and the launch on-demand Small Satellite Launch Vehicle for meeting smallsat launch needs.

Accion Systems Raises $11 Million in Series B Funding

Accion Systems has raised $11 million in Series B funding — the round is being co-led by Boeing HorizonX Ventures and Shasta Ventures.
The Series B round brings Accion’s total funding to date to $36 million, which includes $14 million in U.S. Deptartment of Defense (DoD) and NASA contracts. The new capital will be used to ramp up production of Accion’s next-generation propulsion product and to expand hiring.
Spun out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2014, Accion is redefining in-space propulsion. Accion’s TILE (Tiled Ionic Liquid Electrospray) propulsion system aims to increase the lifespan and maneuverability of satellites and other vehicles in space. Leveraging a non-toxic, ionic liquid propellant and postage stamp-size thrusters, the TILE system is smaller, lighter and more cost-effective than traditional ion engines.

Boeing HorizonX, an innovation and venture organization within Boeing, discovers, shapes and accelerates the next generation of game-changing ideas, products and markets through ventures investments, partnerships and trend discovery.

The TILE product family features four systems.

Accion Systems has a number of launches already scheduled for 2020, including collaborations with student organizations at the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program in Irvine, CA and BeaverCube, an educational mission led by MIT to introduce University students to aerospace science and technology through designing a 3U CubeSat.

Accion also was recently one of fourteen companies selected by NASA as part of its Tipping Point partnership for Moon and Mars technologies. Accion’s in-space propulsion system will be used on replicas of the MarCO CubeSats, NASA’s first cubesats that traveled on an interplanetary mission. Accion will work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to replace the cold gas propulsion system that was used on the MarCO cubesats with a more efficient ion electrospray propulsion system. Accion received $3.9 million for the project, which was successfully kicked off in January 2020 and will launch in the summer of 2021.

Natalya Bailey, CEO of Accion Systems, said that at the size of a postage stamp, the company’s propulsion system is re-writing the rules of smallsat navigation and maneuverability, The firm is excited to ramp up production and offer clients benefits such as extending mission lifetime, station-keeping, and de-orbiting capabilities.

Brian Schettler, Senior Managing Director of Boeing HorizonX Venture, noted that Accion’s propulsion system brings new capabilities to satellites, space vehicles and ultimately, customers. This support of Accion supports Boeing’s leadership in adopting next-generation technologies to advance satellite capabilities.

Shasta Ventures led Accion’s Series A funding round and Rob Coneybeer sits on Accion’s Board of Directors.

Rob Coneybeer, Managing Director at Shasta Ventures, added that only 60 satellites were launched during the first nine years of space exploration, but now there are that many smallsats launched in a single mission. A new approach to in-space propulsion and smallsat mobility is in order, and the company believes Accion has the solution.

SMC’s Successful Mission Deploys Aerospace Rogue CubeSats from ISS

Mission accomplished on behalf of the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and its mission partners as they successfully deployed Aerospace’s Rogue Alpha and Rogue Beta CubeSats from the Northrop Grumman Cygnus capsule at 1 p.m. and 4:10 p.m. respectively, on January 31, 2020 marking the beginning of the program’s mission experiment plan.  

The Aerospace Rogue Alpha/Beta CubeSat in the lab (Photo: Jeff Berting/Aerospace)

The plan involves the two satellites using their short-wave infrared sensors to create a baseline for processing cloud backgrounds and inform future low Earth orbit satellites. The Air Force will also utilize this program’s unclassified data to investigate potential uses of the capability.

Col. Dennis Bythewood, Program Executive Officer for Space Development said that the Space and Missile Systems Center is proud of this team’s accomplishments and the speed at which this program developed.

The CubeSats were designed, built, and tested by The Aerospace Corporation, a national nonprofit corporation that operates as a federally funded research and development center dedicated to advancing the nation’s missions in space.

Jeff Emdee, general manager of the Space Development Division at The Aerospace Corporation said that Aerospace is proud to present its Rogue CubeSats to support the Space Force’s mission of achieving a secure and resilient space architecture. Each three-unit CubeSat is about the size of a shoe box and contains both visible and infrared sensing, as well as a laser communications downlink, that will allow them to explore operations in low Earth orbit to benefit future system concepts.


Lockheed Martin’s First Smallsat Enables Space Mesh Networking

A new era of space-based computing is now being tested on-orbit that will enable artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, cloud networking and advanced SATCOMs in a robust, new, software-defined architecture.

In January of this year, Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) launched the Pony Express 1 mission as a hosted payload on Tyvak-0129, a next-generation Tyvak 6U spacecraft.

The Lockheed Martin Pony Express 1 mission is a hosted payload on Tyvak-0129 smallsat.

Image is courtesy of Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc.

Pony Express 1, an example of rapid prototyping, was developed, built and integrated in nine months, and was funded completely by Lockheed Martin Research and Development funding. This orbital proving ground is validating payload hardware and software, and is packed with new technology that fits into a satellite the size of a shoebox. Some of the key technologies being flight-tested include:

HiveStar™ software validates advanced adaptive mesh communications between satellites, shared processing capabilities and can take advantage of sensors aboard other smart satellites to customize missions in new ways previously difficult to achieve in space.

A software-defined radio (SDR) that allows for high-bandwidth hosting of multiple RF applications, store-and-forward RF collection, data compression, digital signal processing and waveform transmission.

A technician works on Lockheed Martin’s Pony Express 1 payload.

Image is courtesy of Lockheed Martin Space.

Pony Express 1 is a dual-use payload that enables mesh networks in space through HiveStar™ and a second function that tests space to ground remote sensing. Future research missions this year, like Pony Express 2, will further advance cloud networking concepts among satellites, as well as validating Lockheed Martin’s SmartSat™ software-defined satellite architecture which enables streamlined hosting of flexible mission apps.

This mission consists of two 12U cubesats with faster, more capable ultra-scale processors that unlock in-orbit data analytics and artificial intelligence. Equipped with miniaturized cross-link and precision timing, Pony Express 2 is a trailblazer for autonomous teaming in space and true cloud networking.

Rick Ambrose, EVP of Lockheed Martin Space, said that early on-orbit data show Pony Express 1 is performing its important pathfinding mission very well. Lockheed Martin’s HiveStar™ technology on board will give the firm’s customers unparalleled speed, resiliency and flexibility for their changing mission needs by unlocking even greater processing power in space. This is the first of several rapid, self-funded experiments demonstrating Lockheed Martin Space’s ability to systematically accelerate the firm’s customers’ speed to mission while reducing risk from new technologies.