Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…

Electron Launches Satellites for NASA, Spire Global, and Telesat

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 17, 2023
Filed under , , , ,
Electron Launches Satellites for NASA, Spire Global, and Telesat
Electron launches from New Zealand on July 17, 2023.
Image Credit: Rocket Lab.

A Rocket Lab Electron rocket launched a swarm of Starling satellites for NASA, and three spacecraft for Spire Global and Telesat from New Zealand on Monday, July 17 (Tuesday, July 18 local time). Rocket Lab recovered the first stage from the ocean in what the company called a major step toward making the Electron partially reusable.

Electron roared off its launch pad at the Mahia Peninsula on the Baby Come Back mission at 1:27 PM local time. The 39th Electron launch placed the seven satellites into sun-synchronous orbit.

NASA’s four Starling satellites are designed to advance technology for autonomous satellite swarms. Spire’s two spacecraft include payloads that will help forecasters better predict the weather, and Telesat’s communications satellite will test technologies for the Lightspeed constellation.

Starling satellites in orbit
Artist’s conception of Starling satellites in orbit. Image credit: NASA.

After the Starling satellites are in space about 64 km (40 miles) apart, the 6U CubeSats will demonstrate the ability to autonomously maneuver as a group, track one another’s relative position, create an adaptable communications network, and execute new activities in response to information received from onboard sensors, NASA said in a press release.

“Starling, and the capabilities it brings for autonomous command and control for swarms of small spacecraft, will enhance NASA’s abilities for future science and exploration missions,” said Roger Hunter, program manager for NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology program at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “The mission represents a significant step forward.”

Spire Global’s two 3U CubeSats are equipped with Global Navigation Satellite System Radio Occultation (GNSS-RO) payloads that will measure how radio signals change as they move through the atmosphere. The data will be fed into models to enhance the accuracy of weather forecasts.

“As we face the increasing challenge of extreme and unpredictable weather patterns, Spire’s radio occultation data, along with our expertise in running models and AI/ML, is the key to providing precise and accurate weather forecasting across a range of industries,” said Mike Eilts, Spire’s general manager of weather and earth intelligence. “With the launch of two more 3U satellites carrying our radio occultation technology, we are harnessing the power of space-based data collection to empower individuals, communities, and businesses to proactively prepare for diverse weather conditions and adapt to a rapidly changing climate.”

Telesat’s LEO 3 satellite will demonstrate technologies for the company’s 188-satellite LightSpeed communications constellation.

“LEO 3 will provide continuity for customer and ecosystem vendor testing campaigns following the decommissioning of Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite,” the Canadian company said.

LEO 3 will operate under an existing filing with the International Telecommunication Union for the LightSpeed low Earth orbit V-band communications service.

“LEO 3 has the ability to transmit and receive in Ka-band and Q/V-band, with crossbanding capability as well. (i.e., uplink in either Ka-band or V-band, and downlink in either Ka- or Q-band),” a Telesat spokesperson said.

Toronto-based Space Flight Laboratory built LEO 3 based on the company’s DEFIANT microsatellite platform. The spacecraft measures 30 x 30 x 45cm (11.8 x 11.8 x 17.7 inches) and weighs 30 kg (66 pounds).

Electron Baby Come Back mission profile
Mission profile for Electron’s Baby Come Back mission.

Rocket Lab recovered Electron’s first stage from the ocean after it descended under a parachute. The stage is being returned to the company’s production facility for evaluation.

“This Electron first stage features new recovery upgrades including waterproofing systems to protect key engine and avionics components,” the company said in a press release.” Rocket Lab’s transition to marine recovery away from mid-air capture has been informed by previous recovery missions that showed Electron components and engines passed requalification testing following ocean splashdowns, so this next mission represents near final maturation of the marine recovery system in preparation for reflight of a booster.”

Leave a Reply