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(18 August 2020 – Exolaunch) Kepler and Exolaunch have signed a launch agreement for two of Kepler’s 6U XL satellites.

Under the contract, Exolaunch will provide launch, mission management, integration and deployment services to Kepler’s satellites on a Soyuz rideshare mission, targeted for launch in September, 2020. With Exolaunch providing a quick turnaround for launch and deployment, Kepler now continues its rapid constellation development ahead of its 2020 launch plans.

Artist’s impression of one of Kepler’s GEN 1 CubeSats (courtesy: Kepler Communications)

Kepler’s two new satellites are important installments of the company’s development and demonstration platforms, and both carry a high-capacity Ku-band communications system and a prototype IoT payload. The satellites will deliver additional capacity for Kepler’s Global Data Service and a technology demonstration platform for Kepler’s narrowband connectivity solution for Internet of Things devices.

The satellites will be deployed into orbit with the EXOpod, Exolaunch’s advanced cubesat deployer, that has delivered 80 cubesats into orbit to date. Exolaunch produced a custom-tailored 16U EXOpod to accommodate Kepler’s 6U XL satellites. Because of the EXOpod’s ease of operation and flexible design, Kepler’s engineers were able to successfully integrate both satellites at the company’s facilities in Toronto with virtual support from the Exolaunch team. Kepler and Exolaunch worked effectively together on this integration in a remote setting due to the current travel restrictions. The satellites will be delivered to the launch site in Russia, where Exolaunch will conduct a launch campaign and integrate the satellites on a Soyuz launch vehicle.

Jared Bottoms, Head of Launch & Satellite Programs at Kepler, said of the launch partnership: “Exolaunch continues to show growth and innovation in launch solutions and is accommodating to the rapid shifts and changes that often accompany our work as a new space company. Flight heritage is important when we consider launching our assets, and the combination of both deployment and launcher integration brought in by Exolaunch is something we can trust. We look forward to a successful partnership with Exolaunch, and a successful deployment of Kepler’s satellites.”

Jeanne Medvedeva, Commercial Director at Exolaunch, commented further on the upcoming launch plans: “Exolaunch looks forward to working with Kepler to support its mission to eliminate global gaps in connectivity. With the launch of two more satellites, Kepler’s Global Data Service capabilities will expand significantly and improve the economics of movement of data. Our team is ready to utilize our launch expertise and deployment solutions to ensure smooth deployment of Kepler’s satellites into orbit. In light of recent global challenges, we are especially proud of this opportunity to continue our mission to provide our customers with regular access to space.”

Kepler’s satellites are a part of a September Soyuz rideshare mission that is fully manifested by Exolaunch to realize the launch plans of its international small satellite customers. The mission is named Wanderlust, Desire To Travel, which symbolizes both: the ever-increasing importance of sustainable access to space for small satellites and longing for travelling which was recently restricted. Exolaunch has excellent heritage flying international customers on Soyuz; in summer 2019, it launched its largest smallsat cluster to date: 29 satellites from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. On this mission, Exolaunch will deploy a cluster of 15 smallsats into a sun-synchronous orbit for its customers from Europe, the UK, the UAE, Canada and the USA. The company is set to provide its market-leading separation systems – EXOpod for cubesats and CarboNIX for microsats – as well as its EXObox sequencers, to ensure timely deployment of small satellites into their target orbit.

About Kepler Communications

Kepler is a satellite telecommunications provider based in Canada, backed by Costanoa Ventures, IA Ventures and other leading investors. Kepler’s mission is to connect people and things Everywhere, on earth and beyond. To this end, Kepler will build an in-space telecommunications network through an incremental deployment of products and technologies. The first to launch and operate a Ku-band satellite service in Low Earth Orbit, Kepler has recently announced the commissioning of a cubesat manufacturing facility at their Toronto headquarters.

About Exolaunch

Exolaunch is a rideshare launch and deployment solution provider offering regular access to space for small satellites. Its flight heritage includes the successful deployment of nearly 100 small satellites into orbit, in cooperation with launch vehicle providers worldwide. Exolaunch enables the visions of the world’s most ambitious startups, research institutions, governmental organizations and space agencies. The company also designs and manufactures in-house flight-proven advanced separation systems: 12U/16U EXOpod cubesat deployers, CarboNIX shock-free separation system for microsatellites and EXObox deployment sequencers.

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RUAG Space has developed a new powerful computer for satellites

RUAG Space has developed a new powerful computer for satellites

(1 December 2020 – RUAG Space) RUAG Space has developed a new powerful computer for satellites called “Lynx”.

The development was achieved with the help of a contract from the European Space Agency’s program of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) and has been done at RUAG Space in Gothenburg, Sweden. “Our computer contains an extreme amount of power”, explains Anders Linder, Senior Vice President Electronics at RUAG Space. Lynx is 250 times more powerful than the normal On Board Computers, which RUAG currently delivers to ESA programs.

Lynx Single Board Computer (courtesy: RUAG Space)

Computing power for Artificial Intelligence

“We have been very early with this development. This year, we are seeing that Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is starting to arrive in space development programs and now we have a computer ready that perfectly matches the requirements of these customers”, says Anders Linder. “Customers who want to do Machine Learning in space need a lot of computing power – which our computer can provide.” The Lynx On Board Computer will be qualified for space until end of 2021.

High performance, long life

The Lynx Single Board Computer is designed for a long life in any satellite orbit (e.g. 15 years in geostationary earth orbit) or spacecraft trajectory. The computer offers a high-performance processor, which is provided by an ARM processor delivering 30000 DMIPS (short for Dhrystone MIPS, a computing benchmark). “That is a huge leap forward in processing performance for spaceborne computers”, adds Linder. A powerful FPGA (field-programmable gate array) offers flexibility in terms of communication, interface and processing capability. The computer can be used on the platform or in the payload. For its entire electronics portfolio RUAG Space offers a direct technical interface to U.S. clients in its office in Denver, Colorado.

About RUAG Space

RUAG Space is the leading supplier to the space industry in Europe and has a growing presence in the United States. In total, RUAG Space has about 1,300 employees across six countries. RUAG Space develops and manufactures products for satellites and launch vehicles—playing a key role both in the institutional and commercial space market.

About RUAG International

RUAG International is a Swiss technology group focusing on the aerospace industry. Based in Zurich (Switzerland) and with production sites in 14 countries, the company is divided into four areas: Space, Aerostructures, MRO International and Ammotec. With its strategic focus on aerospace, the company will consist of segments, Aerostructures and Space, in the medium term. RUAG Space is Europe’s leading supplier of products used in the aerospace industry. RUAG Aerostructures is a global first-tier supplier in aircraft structure construction. RUAG International employs around 6,000 people.

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Origami antenna springs up for small satellites

Origami antenna springs up for small satellites

(1 December 2020 – ESA) A novel helical antenna that sprang from a container the size of a tuna can is now operational in orbit. Developed by Oxford Space Systems in partnership with ESA, this origami-inspired antenna is equal in length to the shoebox-sized satellite hosting it, part of a growing constellation of nanosatellites providing Internet of Things services around the globe.

This latest operational satellite from UK company Lacuna Space, was launched on 28 September into low Earth orbit. After launch, it underwent a series of in-orbit tests to establish it as part of Lacuna’s Internet of Things network.

As a 3-unit ‘CubeSat’ built up from standardised 10-cm boxes, the satellite is smaller and cheaper than traditional satellites, but can still pick up signals from battery powered ground-based sensors, small enough to hold in the palm of a hand. The mission is targeting Internet of Things applications such as agricultural and environmental monitoring as well as equipment and freight tracking – aided by its high-performance helical antenna.

This new antenna took shape through an ESA R&D project, supported by the UK Space Agency through ESA’s General Support Technology Programme (GSTP), preparing promising technologies for space and the open market.

CubeSat with helical antenna (courtesy: Oxford Space Systems)

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Vibration testing of helical antenna (courtesy: Oxford Space Systems)

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Test deployment (courtesy: Oxford Space Systems)

“The Internet of Things is going to be one of the catalysts for the green revolution we all want to see – helping us monitor everything from air and water quality, to assessing pollution levels around factories, rivers and cities,” remarks UK Space Agency Chief Executive Graham Turnock. “These green technologies are being made possible by cutting edge inventions by UK space companies, like this new Oxford Systems antenna.”

“Until this project, no European-made antenna of this kind was commercially available,” explains project technical officer Benedetta Fiorelli of ESA’s Antennae & Sub-mm Waves section.

“Having identified this gap in the market we proposed addressing it to various funding schemes, and it was GSTP that gave us the chance to take the idea forward. The result, little more than a year after the project started, is a tangible product already operating in space.”

CubeSats are growing in popularity because they draw maximum benefit from the latest miniaturised commercial-off-the-shelf components, to do more with less. But antennas are one satellite subsystem that cannot easily be shrunk down in size.

“We hit hard physical laws that link the size of the antenna’s radiating element with the frequency being used,” adds Benedetta. “So it becomes a challenge to accommodate the antenna aboard a small platform and still do useful work. For instance many CubeSats use simple thin wires antennas deploying from satellite bodies.

“But their performance is not optimal for Internet of Things type applications. Helical antennas are an inherently flexible design with many more parameters that can be tuned precisely as required – the antenna radius, number of spirals, pitch angle and so on.”

Founded in 2013 and based at ESA’s Harwell space campus, Oxford Space Systems has its focus on small, light satellite booms and antennas, to be folded away tightly before launch then spring to full size in orbit, origami-like.

“When we started working on deployable helical antennas we looked at which companies might be interested in that, and Oxford Space Systems was high on the list,” says Benedetta. “We engaged on the GSTP side while the company gained the support of their national ESA delegation, allowing the project to happen.

“It’s a good example of the role ESA should play: we identify a technology gap while industry spots a market opportunity, then we support industry in responding to it. The bulk of the work was done by Oxford Space Systems, including physical properties, radio frequency and deployment testing – slowed down somewhat by this year’s COVID-19 restrictions.”

Midway through the project, the company found a customer for their product, in the shape of Lacuna Space, a Harwell neighbour. Since then a second antenna has also flown, aboard another Lacuna CubeSat launched from India earlier this month.

“Even if it was in our plan since the beginning, I was surprised when they told me,” says Benadetta. “Activity sped up significantly during summer due to this flight opportunity,. In space terms that’s a fast turnaround to go from starting a project to a product working in space, so all involved are proud of it.”

Sean Sutcliffe, CEO of Oxford Space Systems, comments: “This represents a key milestone for OSS as it continues to execute the strategy to be the leading global deployable antenna company for space. Not only is this our first successful deployment of an antenna, but our second successful hardware deployment this year and our fourth in total. We continue to develop and deliver our range of antenna products which give leading performance capabilities with low launch mass and small stowage volumes.”

The satellite platform and early operations have been supplied by nanosatellite integrator NanoAvionics, with the payload developed and tested by Lacuna Space.

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Thales Alenia Space puts on track its Space Inspire product line

Thales Alenia Space puts on track its Space Inspire product

(27 November 2020 – Thales) Thales Alenia Space has announced that a major milestone for Space Inspire (INstant SPace In-orbit REconfiguration) development has been achieved by the accomplishment of the Preliminary Design Review (PDR).

Thales Alenia Space is developping this innovative product line with the aim to allow seamless telecommunication mission and services reconfiguration, instant in-orbit adjustment to the demand, outstanding flexibility for video broadcasting and broadband connectivity services while maximizing the efficiency & effective use of the satellite resources.

(courtesy: Thales Alenia Space /Briot)

This product line is supported by France’s space agency (CNES) with which a contract for satellite system engineering and development for phase CD activities has just entered into force in the frame of Space Inspire PIA (Plan d’Investissement d’Avenir), and by the European Space Agency’s through a dedicated Partnerships Project contract which has also entered into force and which will develop several building blocks outside France within an extensive European supply chain.

Space Inspire product line will embark major innovations :

  • A new design and architecture to fully fit new satellites communication environment, in particular regarding flexible payload and multi launches capability;
  • A new industrial approach enabling series production designed to lower cost satellites and reduced procurement schedule;
  • Major breakthroughs with disruptive technologies to allow European industries to take the lead on major innovations.

Following this Preliminary Design Review, Space Inspire product line is now entering into final design and qualification phases involving an industrial consortium all across Europe.

“We are delighted to put on track our Space Inspire product line thanks to the fruitful partnership and strong involvement of all the industries and agencies teams. Mixing extremely high capacity, unique agility, in-orbit reconfiguration, flexible coverage, this solution is perfectly adapted to operators’ expectations in the evolving telecommunication market” , declared Marc-Henri Serre, EVP Telecommunications at Thales Alenia Space.

“Space Inspire is based on advanced technologies both for payload and for platform with an important foot print in France. It will offer full in-orbit flexibility together with very attractive capacity and cost. CNES is strongly involved in the development of this new satellite generation since the preliminary definition phase, and will manage the satellite system phase CD contract for the french Investment Plan for the Future (PIA). The new product line should also benefit from building blocks developpment outside France through ESA coordination”, declared Caroline Laurent, Director of Orbital Systems at CNES.

Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, says: “The next generation of satellites built as part of Space Inspire will be able to adapt almost instantly to customer demands. ESA is proud to support the European and Canadian space industries to develop innovative satellites for the competitive global telecommunications market. I congratulate all the Thales Alenia Space, CNES and ESA teams for their hard work and looking for the success of this project.”

About Thales Alenia Space

Drawing on over 40 years of experience and a unique combination of skills, expertise and cultures, Thales Alenia Space delivers cost-effective solutions for telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, environmental management, exploration, science and orbital infrastructures. Governments and private industry alike count on Thales Alenia Space to design satellite-based systems that provide anytime, anywhere connections and positioning, monitor our planet, enhance management of its resources, and explore our Solar System and beyond. Thales Alenia Space sees space as a new horizon, helping to build a better, more sustainable life on Earth. A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), Thales Alenia Space also teams up with Telespazio to form the parent companies’ Space Alliance, which offers a complete range of services. Thales Alenia Space posted consolidated revenues of approximately 2.15 billion euros in 2019 and has around 7,700 employees in nine countries.

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