New African satellite data platform, Norwegian military use of nanosatellites and US defense support for small rocket companies.

US Department of Defense announces support for six small rocket companies

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has announced a joint launch agreement with six small rocket companies following a plan to rescue domestic industries affected by the new coronavirus. Specifically, it is a contract that orders two government payloads from each company (12 aircraft in total) and will be fulfilled within 24 months.

In the United States, Parliament passed the Coronavirus Relief, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) law on March 27. The bill aims to provide $1 billion for defense operations and to strengthen domestic industrial capacity.

The small rocket business, along with aircraft manufacturing and shipbuilding, is one of the departments pointed out by the Department of Defense as being most affected by the financial deterioration caused by the new coronavirus.

The six companies supported this time are as follows:

・Rocket Lab
・Space Vector
・VOX Space

According to the statement from The System for Award Management (SAM), the awarding of the contract appears to have been accomplished at the direction of the Department of Defense’s Industrial Base Council, headed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Ellen Road.

The proactive movement to provide support to private companies against the financial deterioration caused by the new coronavirus can be said to reflect the expectations of the US government on the space business.

The Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa) launches satellite data platform across Africa

Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa) has announced that it has released a satellite data platform across Africa using images from the European Space Agency (ESA) satellite Sentinel-2.

The Sentinel-2 data published on this platform is updated every 5 days at a resolution of 10 m, and anyone can use and analyze satellite images from all over Africa.

It is said that the release of the platform was realized in cooperation with Sinergise, Element 84, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Earth Observation Satellite Committee (CEOS).

Digital Earth Africa also provides a development environment called DE Africa sandbox.
DE Africa sandbox adopts Jupyter Lab like Tellus and can analyze satellite data in more detail by using programming language Python.

The latest update of DE Africa sandbox also enables animation, image segmentation and contour extraction using satellite data from Sentinel-2.

It is expected that this project will contribute to the number of cases of satellite data utilization in Africa in the future.

GomSpace signs contract with Norwegian Defense Research Agency

GomSpace concluded a contract with Norwegian Defense Research Institute (FFI) for development and delivery of military grade ultra-small satellites at a cost of 2 million dollars.

The main purpose of the deal is to provide UHF military tactical communications from the low earth orbit (LEO). GomSpace launches from payload development, is deeply involved in initial operation, and supports mission operation. The launch of the microsatellite is scheduled for October 2021.

Lars Erling Bråten, FFI Principal Investigator, said:

“To carry out this project on the fast track is an important goal of the project, with the long-term objective to establish an operational system that can provide this kind of SATCOM capability in the Arctic region”

The early implementation of this project is an important goal for the long-term operation of communication satellite systems in the Arctic region.”

For military missions, it is important to be able to quickly complete the contract and start the mission. We expect more and more cases of using microsatellites for military applications in the near future.

Exolaunch Signs Launch Agreement with Loft Orbital

German launch service provider Exolaunch announced a contract to launch Loft Orbital’s microsatellite YAM-3 as part of SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare program on Falcon9. The launch is targeted for December 2020.

Loft Orbital offers an end-to-end service that delivers missions to orbit on a standard microsatellite bus.

Its spacecraft have extensive flight heritage and can accommodate different smallsat missions. Loft Orbital handles all elements of the mission so its customers can focus on their payloads, sensors, or experiments.

Loft Orbital’s microsatellite YAM-3 takes as a payload among others:

・IoT device
・Autonomous on-board system
・Positioning system
・Blockchain Application

YAM-3 will be launched from Falcon 9 using Exolaunch’s CarboNIX shock-free separation mechanism for micro satellites. In addition to this launch, Exolaunch plans to provide launch and orbit launch services for the next microsatellites following Loft Orbital in 2021.

To date, Exolaunch has successfully orbited nearly 100 small satellites. As the demand for micro-satellite increases, so does the demand for launch agents.

UK is considering the use of OneWeb satellites for UK-specific positioning system

Following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the UK announced that it would withdraw from the Galileo project and build its own satellite positioning system for around £4 billion. As a follow-up the UK government reported that it is considering reducing the system construction budget.

Galileo is the European Global Positioning Satellite System (GNSS), which is being constructed and operated by the European Commission, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the European Global Navigation Systems Administration (GSA) . The United Kingdom has contributed £1.2 billion to the development of Galileo as an EU member state.

The plan to use the OneWeb satellite, a satellite communications business that filed for bankruptcy in March, is being considered as a plan to reduce the budget . If the UK bid is decided, OneWeb has pledged to move its satellite production base from Florida, USA to the UK. It is also estimated that the company’s constellation needs to be supported by at least $1.5 billion.

The departure from the British Galileo project is one of the cases where the policy had a major impact on the space industry.

In addition, while the frequencies of OneWeb satellites are in the Ka and Ku bands, L and S bands are typically used in the positioning system and their realization is difficult compared with other plans.