Cosmic Space

Space Notes: From satellite deals to a new fellowship

— Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. says it’s signed an agreement with HawkEye 360 to support multiple launches of the Virginia-based company’s radio-frequency mapping satellites.

Spaceflight will provide mission management services for HawkEye 360’s Cluster 4, 5 and 6 launches. Each cluster consists of three 65-pound satellites that fly in formation to gather a wide variety of geolocation tracking data. SpaceX sent HawkEye 360’s first cluster into orbit in 2018 as part of a dedicated-rideshare mission organized by Spaceflight. Cluster 2 is scheduled for launch as soon as December on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that’s equipped with Spaceflight’s Sherpa-FX orbital transfer vehicle.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is one of several launch vehicles in Spaceflight’s portfolio for rideshare satellite missions. Other rocket offerings include Northrop Grumman’s Antares, Rocket Lab’s Electron, Arianespace’s Vega, Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha and India’s PSLV. Spaceflight has launched more than 300 satellites across 32 rideshare missions to date.

— Seattle-based RBC Signals has been engaged by California-based Swarm Technologies to host ground-based antennas for Swarm’s satellite IoT communications constellation.

The antennas will support Swarm’s next wave of satellites, part of a 150-unit constellation that’s due to go into full operation by the end of 2021. The first antenna included in the agreement has been placed on Alaska’s North Slope and is supporting the latest group of satellites to be deployed. Those 12 satellites, each about the size of a slice of bread, were sent into orbit on Sept. 2 by an Arianespace Vega rocket.

Plans call for additional Swarm antennas to be activated and hosted by RBC Signals in strategic locations around the world. RBC Signals, founded in 2015, takes advantage of company-owned as well as partner-owned antennas to provide communication services to government and commercial satellite operators.

— Bothell, Wash.-based Tethers Unlimited says it has completed a critical design review for its MakerSat payload, which is due to fly aboard a NASA mission aimed at testing in-space servicing and manufacturing technologies in the mid-2020s.

MakerSat will be part of Maxar Technologies’ Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot (SPIDER), one of the payloads attached to NASA’s OSAM-1 spacecraft. (OSAM stands for On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing). SPIDER is designed to assemble a communications antenna in orbit, while MakerSat will manufacture a 32-foot-long, carbon-fiber construction beam.

The project will test techniques for use on future space missions. “MakerSat will demonstrate the manufacturing of the 2-by-4’s that can be used to construct large telescopes for studying exoplanets and to assemble future space stations,” Tethers Unlimited’s founder and president, Rob Hoyt, said in a news release.

— The application window has opened for the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, a new program that offers paid internships in the aerospace industry for Black and African-American college students.

The fellowship program is modeled after the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship, which offers summer internships to undergraduate as well as graduate students who are passionate about commercial spaceflight; and the Brooke Owens Fellowship, which focuses on women and gender-minority students in aerospace. (GeekWire participated in the first year of the Brooke Owens Fellowship Program.)

Seattle-area companies participating in the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship Program include Blue Origin, Boeing and Stratolaunch. The program is named after Patti Grace Smith, who was a pioneer in the civil rights movement, became the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator for commercial spaceflight, and passed away in 2016 at the age of 68.

Check out the fellowship’s website for eligibility requirements and application procedures. The application deadline for internships in 2021 is Nov. 15.

This report was first published on GeekWire.


Swarm Technologies pushes plan for tiny satellites

Momentus Vigoride shuttle
An artist’s conceptions shows Momentus’ Vigoride in-space shuttle moving a payload in orbit. (Momentus Illustration)

Swarm Technologies has struck an agreement with California-based Momentus for the launch of a dozen telecommunication satellites, each the size of a slice of bread, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in December.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.


Swarm raises $25M for space-based IoT network

Ben Longmier and Sara Spangelo
Swarm Technologies was founded by chief technology officer Ben Longmier and CEO Sara Spangelo, who is holding one of the company’s super-miniaturized SpaceBEE satellites. (Swarm Technologies Photo)

A year after making a $900,000 mistake, Swarm Technologies is raking in $25 million in a funding round aimed at getting a constellation of sandwich-sized satellites up and running for the Internet of Things.

Getting the constellation in orbit could open up a big frontier for tiny satellites within the next year and a half.

“We’re just excited to get launched and get our network up there and start offering global, affordable internet,” said Swarm CEO Sara Spangelo, a veteran of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Alphabet’s X “moonshot factory.”

The satellites, known as SpaceBEEs, are so small that the Federal Communications Commission turned down the Silicon Valley startup’s application for a launch license last January. The mission went ahead anyway — largely because Seattle-based Spaceflight, the company that was taking care of the logistics for liftoff aboard an Indian PSLV rocket, didn’t know Swarm’s application had been rejected.

Last month, Swarm agreed to pay the FCC’s hefty fine, submit to closer oversight for the next three years and draw up a detailed plan for compliance with the agency’s rules. “It’s probably sufficient to say we take all compliance issues very seriously,” Spangelo told GeekWire.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Swarm Technologies stung by $900,000 fine

SpaceBEE satellite
As initially designed, Swarm Technologies’ controversial SpaceBEE satellites were each roughly the size of a sandwich. (Swarm Technologies Illustration via FCC)

The Federal Communications Commission says Swarm Technologies must pay a $900,000 fine and be subject to increased scrutiny for having a tiny set of satellites launched without authorization.

The penalties were laid out in a consent decree issued today.

“We will aggressively enforce the FCC’s requirements that companies seek FCC authorization prior to deploying and operating communications satellites and earth stations,” Rosemary Harold, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a news release.  “These important obligations protect other operators against radio interference and collisions, making space a safer place to operate.”

California-based Swarm is aiming to develop a constellation of miniaturized telecommunications satellites that would enable “low-cost, space-based connectivity anywhere in the world.”

The company drew the FCC’s ire after a four-pack of its sandwich-sized satellites, known as SpaceBEEs, was launched aboard an Indian PSLV rocket in January — even though the agency had turned down its application for authorization. FCC officials were concerned that the 4-inch-wide, 1-inch-thick satellites would be too small to be tracked in orbit.

The launch was facilitated by Seattle-based Spaceflight, which said it was not aware at the time that Swarm’s application had been rejected.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


How a satellite snafu led to a new launch policy

PSLV rocket
India’s PSLV-C40 rocket stands on its launch pad in advance of January’s liftoff. (ISRO Photo)

When India’s PSLV rocket launched a host of satellites into orbit in January, one big piece was missing: the Federal Communications Commission’s authorization for Swarm Technologies’ super-miniaturized satellites.

The FCC had nixed Swarm’s application on the grounds that the wallet-sized communications satellites, known as SpaceBEEs, were too small to be tracked properly. But Seattle-based Spaceflight, which had arranged for the launch, didn’t know that.

January’s unauthorized launch of the SpaceBEEs resulted in a regulatory slap for Swarm, and no small embarrassment for Spaceflight.

Curt Blake, the launch logistics company’s president, vows it won’t happen again.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


FCC stings Swarm for unauthorized satellite launch

PSLV launch
India’s PSLV rocket lifts off in January, carrying controversial satellites into orbit. (ISRO Photo)

A stealthy California startup called Swarm Technologies is facing the wrath of the Federal Communications Commission after its super-miniaturized satellites were launched without proper authorization.

The flap was first reported March 9 by IEEE Spectrum.

It all started when Swarm Technologies developed a breed of networked communications satellites known as SpaceBEEs (Basic Electronic Elements). The satellites were unusually small: about 4 inches square and 1 inch thick, or roughly the size of a sandwich.

Get the full story on GeekWire.