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LA Company Squid3 Space Develops Camouflage for Satellites

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 21, 2023
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LA Company Squid3 Space Develops Camouflage for Satellites
A wide-field image (2.2 degrees across) from the Dark Energy Camera on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-m telescope at the Cerro Tololo InterAmerican Observatory, taken on 18 November 2019. Several Starlink satellites crossed the field of view.
Image credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/DECam DELVE Survey.

The launch of thousands of satellites has created major headaches for ground-based astronomers, who find streaks from the spacecraft ruining the images they take of the night sky. A small startup in Los Angeles believes it has found a solution to the problem by taking inspiration from a creature in the ocean.

Squid3 Space has developed ASTRID, a smart electronic covering that can be applied to the exterior of satellites. The programmable digital covering can render a satellite dark during its nighttime pass around the Earth, and make it light again when it enters sunlight, CEO and founder Warren Su told Parabolic Arc at the Small Satellite Conference held in Utah this month.

Su founded Squid3 in May. He graduated from the University of Southern California earlier this year with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering and a minor in business finance, according to his LinkedIn page. Squid3 is being incubated within USC’s Viterbi Startup Garage, which is providing support services.

ASTRID can be used to manage the heat signatures and thermal absorptivity of satellite surfaces, Su added. The covering will improve a satellite’s energy efficiency by enabling it to absorb more heat while in the sunlight, helping it stay warm when it enters darkness.

The covering can also be used in conjunction with data from temperature and sun sensors to adjust thermal conditions aboard a satellite, according to the company’s website. ASTRID is available in sheets or rolls and can be easily applied in the same manner as Kapton tape, an insulator that is widely used in satellite construction, the website said.

Squid3’s promotional material said ASTRID will make it easier for engineers by eliminating the need to conduct high-fidelity thermal modeling and the need to repeat thermal balance tests on satellites. It will also reduce scheduling delays due to the last-minute resizing or redesigns of spacecraft.

Squid3’s website said ASTRID would be useful for low-Earth orbit constellations that want to limit light pollution, spacecraft with varying power and mission modes, high-power small satellites with thermal challenges, and asteroid mining spacecraft that travel varying distances from the Sun.

Su said ASTRID would be especially useful for satellite docking. Digital markers can be applied to the target spacecraft, allowing docking cameras armed with computer vision algorithms aboard the approaching vehicle to produce a more accurate alignment. The ASTRID markers would also be lighter than the metal plates currently attached to target satellites.

ASTRID can also be used to minimize thermal incompatibility between the two spacecraft, Squid3 said in its promotional material. Large temperature differences between a servicing satellite and its target can result in damage or loss of function.

Satellite docking has become more popular in recent years as operators have sought to extend the life of their spacecraft by refueling them. Companies are also developing spacecraft that can remove dangerous debris in Earth orbit.

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