Move over CubeSats! A New Type of Small Satellite is Preparing to Fly

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The CubeSat format has dominated the small satellite industry for many years. Their small size – a 1U Cubesat measures a mere 10 x 10 x 10 cm (3.94 x 3.94 x 3.94 in) – has made spacecraft cheaper and easier to build. The ability to combine these units into larger spacecraft has given satellite makers a variety of options. CubeSats can be launched in large numbers on rideshare missions or as secondary payloads to larger satellites.

However, CubeSats do have limitations in terms of mass, power and other key aspects. Engineers at The Aerospace Corporation believe it’s time for small satellites to go in another direction. Instead of a cube, they are modeling their new spacecraft on a compact disc. They hope their design, known as DiskSat, will become a new standard for small satellites.

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Virgin Orbit Reports Second Quarter Results

  • Completed fourth consecutive successful launch in 18 months on July 1, 2022; delivered satellites for the Department of Defense Space Test Program (STP)
  • Signed binding launch contract with iQPS for launch of synthetic aperture radar satellites
  • Announced NRO, U.S. Space Force, UK MoD, and commercial payloads for Cornwall, UK launch
  • Established new Brazilian subsidiary and received launch operator’s license
  • Continued international momentum with signed study for South Korean spaceport

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR)–Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) (“Virgin Orbit” or the “Company”), the responsive space flight and services company, today announced its financial results for the second quarter ended June 30, 2022.

Virgin Orbit’s Chief Executive Officer, Dan Hart, commented, “We had another strong quarter of execution, culminating in our latest launch on July 1st. Our ‘Straight Up’ mission, which was our fourth successful launch in 18 months, delivered seven satellites for the DoD. We continue to see strong efficiency gains as we scale production and increase launch rate.”

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Air Force Research Laboratory Recurve Satellite Launched on Virgin Orbit Mission

Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate’s spacecraft Recurve was launched into low Earth orbit July 2, 2022, from the Mojave Air and Space Port, Rutan Field, Mojave, California, on a Virgin Orbit U.S. Space Force Space Test Program mission. (Credit: U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory)

by Jeanne Dailey
Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFRL) — The Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate spaceflight experiment Recurve was launched July 2, 2022, from the Mojave Air and Space Port on the Virgin Orbit space system in California. The launch supported the U.S. Space Force’s STP-S28A mission and carried six additional payloads for the Department of Defense Space Test Program (STP).

Recurve is the latest in several low-cost CubeSats designed, built and operated entirely in house at the Space Vehicles Directorate located on Kirtland AFB.

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Virgin Orbit Successfully Launches Seven Satellites

Cosmic Girl takes off for the Straight Up mission on July 1, 2022. (Credit: Virgin Orbit/Virgin Orbit/Dae Dae)

MOJAVE, Calif., July 2, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) has confirmed the success of its fourth consecutive satellite launch mission. This launch, named Straight Up, carried seven satellites to Low Earth Orbit for the United States Space Force (USSF), who procured this launch for the Rocket Systems Launch Program, with payloads provided by the Department of Defense Space Test Program (STP). In support of its mission partners, Virgin Orbit has now delivered a total of thirty-three satellites to orbit with 100% mission success.

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Virgin Orbit Set to Launch 7 Satellites Tonight

UPDATE: Virgin Orbit says the launch was scrubbed because the LauncherOne “propellant temperature was slightly out of bounds.” The company has not announced a new launch date.

Virgin Orbit Launch

Launch Vehicles: LauncherOne/Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl
Payloads: 7 small satellites
Customer: U.S. Space Force
Launch Site: Pacific Ocean off California
Launch Origination: Mojave Air and Space Port | Mojave, Calif.
Launch Window: 10 p.m. PDT on June 29 | 1 a.m. EDT/0500 UTC on June 30
Livestream: 9:45 p.m. PDT on June 29 | 12:45 p.m. EDT/0445 UTC on June 30
Mission Name: Straight Up
Mission Number: STP-28A

Mission Overview

The launch will carry seven satellites from multiple government agencies that are experiments intended to demonstrate novel modular satellite bus, space domain awareness, and adaptive radio frequency technologies.

The U.S. Space Force has procured this launch for the Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP), with payloads provided by the DoD Space Test Program (STP). 

Payloads

CTIM-FD: CubeSat will measure radiation Earth receives from the Sun. (University of Colorado at Boulder)

Lonestar: U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command satellite focused on experimental tactical space support.

MISR-B: spacecraft will demonstrate two-way communications with ground devices and experiment with methods to leverage small satellite capabilities. (Department of Defense)

NACHOS-2: will allow scientists to detect, map, and quantify Earth’s trace gasses more easily, which is critical for volcanology and climate change research. (Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Recurve: satellite propels CubeSat technology forward by demonstrating adaptive radio frequency system capability from low Earth orbit, evaluating mesh network behavior across multiple nodes to route data wherever it needs to go. (U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory)

Slingshot 1: CubeSat will advance on-orbit experiments using modular & autonomous technologies on next-gen satellite systems with SatCat5, a data interface which implements Ethernet-type communication between payloads using low power serial communications. (The Aerospace Corporation)

ULA Atlas V to Launch USSF-12 Mission on Thursday

Atlas V for the USSF-12 mission on the launch pad. (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION, Fla. (ULA PR) — A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket will launch the USSF-12 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC). Liftoff will occur from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

Launch Date and Time: Thursday, June 30, 2022 at 6:00 p.m. EDT (2200 UTC)

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Five Launches Scheduled to Close Out June

Electron launches on May 3, 2022. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Here are the launches scheduled for the rest of June.

Tuesday, June 28

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Payload: CAPSTONE
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Launch Time: 5:55 a.m. EDT (09:55 UTC)
Webcast: www.nasa.gov beginning at 5 a.m. EDT (09:00 UTC)

Rocket Lab will launch NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) lunar orbiter. The spacecraft will enter a near rectilinear halo orbit on Nov. 13 in order to test technologies for NASA’s lunar Gateway space station that will use that orbit.

Wednesday, June 29

Launch Vehicle: SpaceX Falcon 9
Payload: SES 22 communications satellite
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla.
Launch window: 5:04-7:13 p.m. EDT (21:04-23:13 UTC)
Webcast: www.spacex.com beginning 10 minutes before launch

Thursday, June 30

Launch Vehicle: Virgin Orbit LauncherOne
Payload: STP-28A — 7 small spacecraft
Launch Site: Cosmic Girl (Boeing 747), Mojave Air and Space Port, Calif.
Launch Window: 1:00-5:00 a.m. EDT (10 p.m.-1 a.m. PDT on June 29/30 — 0500-0900 UTC)
Webcast: www.virginorbit.com

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 will drop the LauncherOne rocket off the coast of California on a mission funded by Department of Defense’s Space Test Program.

Launch Vehicle: PSLV
Payload: DS-EO Earth observation satellite
Launch Site: Satish Dhawan Space Center, India
Launch Time: 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 UTC)
Webcast: www.isro.gov.in

Launch Vehicle: ULA Atlas V
Payload: USSF 12 missile warning satellite
Launch Site: SLC-41, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla.
Launch Time: 6:00-8:00 p.m. EDT (2200-0000 UTC)
Webcast: www.ulalaunch.com

Virgin Orbit on Target for Next Launch Window to Open June 29

Highlights: 

  • Dress rehearsals complete, payload-rocket mating successful 
  • June 29 marks the opening of the launch window for the company’s fourth overall mission  
  • Is lead-in to historic U.K. launch planned for later this year

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB)’s launch system is in place at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The dress rehearsals are complete, and the company remains on track for its upcoming Straight Up launch, with a launch window opening on June 29 at 10 pm PDT.

The launch will support the United States Space Force’s STP-S28A mission and carry payloads for the Department of Defense (DOD) Space Test Program (STP). The target orbit for Straight Up is approximately 500 km above the Earth’s surface at a 45-degree inclination. Virgin Orbit is the first company to achieve this feat from California through its Above the Clouds launch which was completed earlier this year.

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UK and US to Launch Joint Mission Aboard United Kingdom’s First Orbital Launch Supported by Virgin Orbit

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Satellite launch company Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) announces today that a joint mission between the United Kingdom’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is expected to be lofted on the first space launch out of Spaceport Cornwall later this year.

The government agencies’ joint Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment (CIRCE) is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program (STP), which is organized under the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC). CIRCE will utilize two 6U CubeSats flying in tandem formation to measure the ionosphere and radiation environment from multiple vantage points. The mission will support the two countries’ joint development of a wide range of civil and defense applications, including GPS, radar, communication systems, and sensing technology.

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Virgin Orbit Announces Next Launch, Dubbed ‘Straight Up’

LauncherOne ignites on its way to space. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) has entered flight preparation mode for its forthcoming launch, Straight Up, that will support the United States Space Force’s STP-28A mission. After departing Virgin Orbit’s Long Beach rocket factory on Thursday, April 28, 2022, the rocket arrived at the Mojave Air and Space Port. It will support the Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) and will carry payloads for the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program (STP).

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Virgin Orbit Launches 7 Payloads into Orbit

Cosmic Girl after takeoff from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA, January 13, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB), the responsive launch and space solutions company, confirmed it successfully deployed into orbit all 7 customer satellites onboard its LauncherOne rocket during today’s Above the Clouds mission.

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Building Towards Third Commercial Launch, Virgin Orbit Completes Final Launch Rehearsal

Virgin Orbit team completing final technical rehearsal of LauncherOne R5 for January flight. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Yesterday, Virgin Orbit, which has announced a planned business combination with NextGen Acquisition Corp. II (“NextGen”) (NASDAQ: NGCA), completed a full wet dress rehearsal of its air-launched LauncherOne satellite delivery service, taking the integrated system through a full run of procedures to verify the health of the system and the preparedness of the team.

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5 Things to Know About a Pair of Small But Mighty Weather Instruments

The COWVR and TEMPEST instruments are in the truck of a SpaceX Drago cargo spacecraft launched to the International Space Station on Dec. 21, 2021. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — Launched Tuesday to the space station, the COWVR and TEMPEST two instruments could lead the way to big improvements in gathering key information for weather forecasting.

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Virgin Orbit Delays Next Launch Until After Merger Vote

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit has delayed its next satellite launch, originally set for Wednesday, Dec. 22, to next month. The launch will come after shareholders of NextGen Acquisition Corp. II vote on Dec. 28 on whether to merge with Richard Branson’s launch services provider.

The merger with the special purpose acquisition company would allow Virgin Orbit to go public on Nasdaq under its own name. The deal will provide $483 million in capital to allow the company to grow.

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