Cygnus cargo ship (Source: NASA/OrbitalATK)

OrbitalATK CRS-9/OA-9 carrying more business to space

The OrbitalATK CRS-9/OA-9 supply mission scheduled to launch before dawn on May 20 from Wallops Island, VA will add to the number of nanosatellites put into orbit through International Space Station (ISS) operations.  Spire Global and Analytical Space have commercial payloads on board while JPL’s RainCube has potential applications for predicting the weather and future cubesat antennas.

Spire Global has over fifty Lemur 3U CubeSats in orbit as of May 2018, providing AIS maritime tracking information and atmospheric weather data.  The four new Lemurs traveling onboard the OrbitalATK Cygnus cargo ship include ADS-B aviation tracking capabilities, adding another service to the company’s portfolio.

At least 25 Lemurs have previously been delivered into orbit through Cygnus cargo runs to ISS. AIS maritime tracking enables fleet owners, governments, economic analysts and other customers to monitor global shipping traffic around the world. Spire’s AIS network collects over 28 million ship reports a day, according to the company’s website.

ADS-B tracks aircraft around the globe. It is especially important for monitoring flights over the poles, across the oceans, and any region where terrestrial radar coverage is unavailable.  Spire will beta its AirSafe service this year with the launch of the first four ADS-B equipped Lemurs, while production service is planned to go live in 2020.

Spire Lemur satellites also measure GPS radio occultation (blocking), providing detailed observations of atmospheric temperature and moisture, with the data used to dramatically improve weather forecasts. The company plans a constellation of around 150 nanosatellites to provide global coverage and rapid updating  for weather data along with maritime and aircraft tracking.

Boston start-up (Psst @evankirstel) Analytical Space will get its first test satellite, Radix, into orbit on OA-9.  Analytical Space plans to create a network of CubeSats to act as satellite radio relays and collect and move Internet of Things (IoT) data.  Satellites will talk to Analytical Space relays using UHF, S-band, and S-band, with the relays using laser to quickly move information to the ground.

Radix, a 6U sized CubeSat, is scheduled to be put into orbit from ISS sometime in June, with an orbital lifetime of six months.  Experiments with beta test customers are expected to start in October, with data picked up and stored onboard as Radix moves within range of a satellite, then downloaded via laser when it passes over a ground station.  Demonstrations will take place using a software defined radio (SDR) operating from 700 Mhz to 6 GHz.

Analytical Space says it can move data around faster from data-intensive Earth observation satellites thought its combination of in-orbit RF cross-connects and high-speed laser communication to the ground, and do so at reasonable cost.  The laser communication downlink should deliver gigabit speeds, but Analytical needs to fill in how many optical ground stations it will build and where they will be located.

Lasers don’t do well in rain, which is why NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) RainCube satellite could prove to be useful to Analytical and anyone else worried about weather.  The satellite packs a Ka-band radar along with a 50 centimeter deployable antenna into a 12 kilogram, 6U package.  RainCube is designed to demonstrate and validate using a compact Ka-band radar to “see” precipitation from space.  Being able to have a weather radar in a small satellite package could lead to a constellation of small satellites able to observe thunderstorms and hurricanes develop in real time, leading to improvements in weather forecasting.  And CubeSat builders are always looking for clever ways to add antennas to their satellites.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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