By Douglas Messier
DARPA’s ambitious Phoenix program, which aims to transform the way satellites are built and operated, will get an orbital test next year in a satellite launch that will combine the efforts of two up and coming NewSpace companies.
NovaWurks, of Los Alaimos, Calif., has signed an agreement with Spaceflight Inc., of Seattle, to launch the eXCITe spacecraft during the third quarter of 2015. NovaWurks’ tiny “satlet” will be part of approximately 2,650 lbs. (1,200 kg.) of other rideshare spacecraft that will aboard Spaceflight’s SHERPA in-space transportation platform.
A satlet is a new low-cost, modular satellite architecture that NovaWurks is developing for DARPA. They are small independent modules weighing roughly 15 lbs. (7 kg) that incorporate essential satellite functions such as power supplies, movement controls and sensors. Satlets can be combined in different combinations and sizes to create payloads capable of performing a variety of space missions.
“eXCITe is a prime example of the flexibility of the HISat™ platform to be configured as a Conformal Spacecraft™,” said NovaWurks’ Chief Technologist, Talbot Jaeger. “Proving this capability within the DARPA Phoenix program is a first step in realizing a revolutionary new way to construct more affordable satellites. We are pleased to partner with a like-minded organization such as Spaceflight for this mission.”
eXCITe will be deployed using Spaceflight’s SHERPA platform, which is used to deploy CubeSats and other secondary payloads carried into orbit aboard large launch vehicles.
“DARPA’s Phoenix program is a near perfect fit with SHERPA’s capabilities, which will open up additional access to space on commercial launch vehicles, as well as acting as an enabler for future missions to unique orbits.” said Curt Blake, president of Spaceflight. “This is an exciting time for new business models and concepts in the satellite industry, and we are thrilled to be working with a cutting-edge technology trailblazer like NovaWurks.”
Spaceflight has launched 76 satellites since it was founded in 2011. The company has more than 105 spacecraft under contract for launches scheduled between 2014 and 2017.