Vega VV14 launch (Source: ArianeSpace)

Vega rocket loss affecting IoT, other New Space businesses

This week’s loss of a Vega rocket will have likely an impact upon at least five New Space businesses working to put more satellites into orbit.  Astrocast, Planet, Spire, and Swarm Technologies are among the companies affected by a pause in Vega launch operations as ArianeSpace conducts an investigation into the mishap.

Launch of the VV15 mission took place on at 9:53 p.m. ET on July 10 from the Guyana Space Center in Kourou, French Guyana. Vega’s fifteenth launch carried the United Arab Emirates Falcon Eye 1 imaging satellite. At about two minutes into flight, a “launcher anomaly” occurred around the time the second stage was to ignite, leading to the loss of the mission.

It will be weeks and could be months before a root cause of the launch failure is determined and changes are implemented so launch operations can resume. Vega’s next launch had been scheduled to take place in September to conduct a small satellite rideshare launch for Italian space integration firm D-Orbit. Astrocast signed up to put 10 satellites its first large scale deployment of IoT satellites, while Gunther’s Space Page lists GHGSat, Planet, Spire Global, Swarm Technologies and a number of scientific research cubesats as additional passengers onboard the rideshare.

Astrocast and Swarm Technologies are likely to be the most adversely impacted by the flight delay, while Planet and Spire will likely take it in stride.   Both Astrocast and Swarm want to get as many satellites into orbit as soon as possible in order to offer and improve their respective IoT services. More satellites mean faster pickup and delivery of IoT data from devices around the ground, while the total number of satellites in orbit is likely to be one factor to impress potential investors and customers.

Earlier this year, Astrocast discussed its plans to place at least 10 satellites into orbit by the end of the year using two separate launches with a third launch taking place in 2020. Astrocast has two pathfinder 3U-sized satellites in orbit today.

Swarm Technologies has a mixture of 1U and 0.25U SpaceBEE cubesats in orbit, for a total of 9 satellites launched to date. Gunther’s Space Page lists SpaceBEE 10 through 21 as a part of the D-Orbit Vega rideshare mission.

Least likely concerned about a Vega launch delay are Planet and Spire Global.  Planet has roughly 140 or so 3U Dove imaging satellites in orbit today, with new satellites getting into space through a number of different platforms.  In addition, Planet has lost at least 34 or more Doves across multiple launch mishaps on different rockets, so a simple flight delay of 6 satellites is likely to be met with a shrug.

Similarly, Spire Global has over 80 Lemur 3U-size satellites in orbit today conducting AIS ship tracking, ADS-B plane tracking and GPS-RO weather data collection. The company has lost roughly 10 satellites due to different launch mishaps.  Gunther’s Space Page says Spire has 3 Lemur satellites onboard the D-Orbit Vega rideshare missions.

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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