Arianespace Vega VV16 launch (Source: Arianespace)

Vega VV16 puts lots of IoT and imaging satellites into orbit – Plus a Facebook satellite

After numerous delays, Arianespace finally launched the Vega VV16 rideshare mission.  The flight put 53 satellites into orbit and marks the first successful launch of Vega after a July 2019 mishap.  It carried into orbit Facebook’s first experimental communications satellite, a number of imaging satellites, and numerous IoT satellites.

Launch took place on September 2, 2020 at 9:51 PM ET from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. The Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) Proof of Concept (PoC) flight had 21 different customers onboard with a mixture of cubesats and small satellites. The launch had been scheduled to take place on June 18 but ended up being bumped several times due to bad weather conditions with the most recent delay occurring earlier in the week with weather affecting a telemetry site in South Korea.

The VV16 mission carried Facebook’s first communication’s satellite into orbit, but don’t expect to hear much about it from the company.  Maxar built the PointView Tech Athena satellite, an experimental low earth orbit (LEO) satellite.  PointView, a subsidiary of Facebook, intends to demonstrate high-speed millimeter wave operations between 60 GHZ to 90 GHz with downlink speeds of around 10 Gbps to ground stations, reported IEEE and Mark Harris back in 2018, and uplink speeds of 30 GBps.

It isn’t clear if Facebook is simply demonstrating the LEO millimeter wave technology to encourage others to embrace it or if the company plans to build its own large constellation of satellites to deliver global broadband. Previously, Facebook has purchased satellite capacity to extend Internet connectivity into Africa.  Facebook also started the Open Compute Project to encourage the collaborative redesign of data center hardware and software and has dabbled in high altitude platform stations (HAPS), high-flying uncrewed drones carrying telecom payloads to extend coverage.

Others onboard the VV16 flight are Tweeting and emailing their successful deployments today. Swarm Technologies now has 12 of its 0.25 CubeSat SpaceBEE’s in orbit, part of what will eventually be a constellation of up to 150 satellites collecting IoT data. The company has another group of SpaceBEEs set to go up onboard a SpaceX rideshare flight later this year, according to Gunter’s Space Page.

Kepler Communications TARS satellite is happily communicating with the ground, reports the company via its blog. TARS is the final technology pathfinder satellite, a 6U cubesat that has Ku-band support for high-speed data transfer and S-band two-way narrowband support for IoT applications. The launch of TARS may be bittersweet since Kepler has a pair of its GEN1 satellites scheduled to be launched onboard a Soyuz later this year and other satellites catching a ride onboard SpaceX rideshare missions.  

The AIS/ADS-B community had a bunch of satellites onboard with Spire’s 8 LEMUR-2 satellites, but they were far outnumbered by the imaging folks.  VV16 had 12 Planet SuperDove imaging satellites onboard, capable of 3-5 meter resolution in multiple wavelengths while Satellogic has its NuSat/Newsat-6 satellite.  Newsat-6 provides imaging of 1 meter resolution and can also support video. Another 20 Newsats could be put into orbit by the end of this year, giving the company a substantial imaging constellation with rapid revisit time.

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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