Project Kuiper receives FCC approval and other satellite industry news

Kuiper constellation receives FCC approval

Amazon received approval from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the operation of 3,236 low-orbit communication satellite constellation. At the same time, it announced that it would invest $10 billion in Kuiper. According to the FCC, Amazon must launch at least 50% of its constellation satellites by July 30, 2026, and have a complete constellation built by July 30, 2029. Amazon has stated that it will deploy the Kuiper satellite in five phases and will start the service when 578 satellites have reached orbit. Project Kuiper is an initiative to launch a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world. SpaceX’s Starlink, UK-acquired OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper are intensifying the competition in communication satellite constellations.

Astra announces new test flight dates

Astra , a rocket venture, has announced a flight test schedule for its new “Rocket 3.1” aircraft . As with the launch in March, the launch window will be from Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak Island, Alaska, and the launch window will be from 11:00 to 13:00 on August 3-8, Japan time. This launch is the first launch of the three test flights when the company plans to demonstrate its ability to launch rockets into orbit, with a focus on testing the performance of the first stage of the rocket. Also, no payload will be installed.

“We don’t intend to hit a hole-in-one here.We intend to accomplish enough to ensure that we’re able to get to orbit after three flights” – Astra’s founder Chris Kemp, commented.

Three years after the company was established, Astra is advancing the development style of conducting flight tests from an early stage. CTO Adam London also said that there are many things that can be learned only during flight, so obtaining accurate flight data at an early stage enables rapid aircraft development. Astra took part in the first launch of Rocket 3.0 as the final review of the DARPA Launch Challenge in March this year , but an abnormal signal was detected during pressurization of the fuel tank, and the launch was interrupted 1 minute before the launch. The problem was fixed by a combination of hardware and software changes.

Rocket Lab announces cause of launch failure

Rocket Lab, a rocket venture, identified the cause of launch failure of the small rocket Electron on July 4th as an electrical connection abnormality. The company is aiming for restarting launch in August 2020. It has already received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) . The launch of Electron on July 4th proceeded as planned, including takeoff from the launch site, combustion of the first stage engine, separation of the first stage engine, ignition of the second stage engine, and disconnection of the fairing. However, the engine stopped a few minutes after the second stage combustion.

In response to this issue, Rocket Lab’s Accident Investigation Board reviewed and tested data acquired on more than 25,000 data points from the aircraft. As a result, it was announced that this failure was identified as being caused by electrical problems.

According to the announcement, due to the increase in resistance at specific points during flight, heat was generated and the surrounding potting compound (insulator that protects electronic parts) was liquefied and the electric system was cut off, which caused the engine to stop.

This problem did not occur in standard tests such as vibration, thermal vacuum, and thermal cycle tests, and has never occurred in past launches. However, the company’s engineers tested the same component after the accident, and as a result, they were able to reproduce this trouble, which led to the identification of the problem.

In the future, the company will respond by replacing the relevant parts. CEO Peter Beck commented that the aircraft design will not be changed due to this issue.

Former NASA Astronaut joins Axiom Space

On July 30, it was announced that former NASA astronaut Rex Walheim will join Axiom Space, which aims to build a space station as a private sector company.

Mr. Walheim joined NASA after gaining a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in industrial engineering before working in the Air Force. From October 1986 to January 1989, he was a flight controller and operations engineer at the Johnson Space Center, and was selected as an astronaut by NASA in March 1996. Participating in three missions, the total time spent in space exceeded 560 hours. At Axiom Space, he will be the Director of Safety & Mission Assurance. The co-founder of Axiom Space is former ISS Program Manager Michael Suffredini. 

Descartes Labs awarded contract with US Air Force

 Descartes Labs announced that it has received a contract to support the analysis of data collected by the US Air Force from satellites and aircraft via machine learning and AI-based cloud-based analysis.

Descartes Labs is a start-up company that analyzes geospatial images and provides services to a wide range of industries such as agriculture, resource development, logistics, finance and insurance. The company was founded in 2014 as a spin off from Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States. It currently has over 100 employees and offices in Los Alamos, New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Denver in addition to its headquarters in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Descartes Labs has previously received an order from the Air Force for a wide-area tracking of vehicles and ships and the extraction of trajectory information. According to the press release, the contract is worth $1.5 million over 12 months. The deal is part of an Air Force technology accelerator program called AFWERX and a research-sponsored Small Business Innovation Research.

ICEYE image data will be provided free of charge to ESA researchers

Finnish venture company ICEYE which manufactures, develops and operates small SAR satellites, is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) “Earthnet Third Party Mission (TPM)”. Thus they announced to provide images to researchers free of charge.

TPM is a framework that collects data from satellites operated by private companies that are not under the jurisdiction of ESA and provides them to international principal investigators free of charge. The data can be used for research and application development.

“The growing constellation of ICEYE SAR satellites is a milestone in the earth observation industry,” said an ESA representative. It is important for the principal investigator to explore the availability of ICEYE data. We are pleased that ESA can support this process.”

In August 2019, ICEYE succeeded in the first image capture with a resolution of less than 1 m for a small SAR satellite weighing 100 kg or less.