Astro Digital announces first cubesats launched on Soyuz failed

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SAN FRANCISCO — Astro Digital, an Earth imaging and analysis company, has confirmed that two satellites it launched as secondary payloads on a Soyuz rocket in July have failed, joining several other satellites that mysteriously failed on that mission.

In a Sept. 8 blog post, the company declared that the two Landmapper cubesats it launched July 14 on a Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket are “officially unresponsive” and that the firm will “direct all our team’s energy towards our launch next month.”

Soon after the July 14 launch, Bronwyn Agrios, Astro Digital product head, said the firm was commissioning the Landmapper cubesats. The new blog post reveals, however, that the firm has spent six weeks “trying to resuscitate the satellites, whose ability to transmit data back to Earth was compromised since deployment.”

On July 14, the Soyuz launched 72 small satellites alongside a large Russian Earth imaging satellite, Kanopus-V-IK. At least nine of the cubesats never responded to commands from their operators.

The company, in its blog post, suggested that an anomaly in the section of the Fregat upper stage where its satellites and the other failed spacecraft were located may be to blame. All those satellites, the company said, were in “the Soyuz rocket bay with the suspected anomaly,” adding that the unspecified malfunction “could have generated conditions in excess of what most satellites plan for which could have fried our key electronics — even systems hardened for the extremes for space.”

SpaceNews previously reported that the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) Iskra-MAI-85 cubesat was one of the satellites that failed. That report is contradicted by an Aug. 23 MAI announcement, saying “The Iskra-MAI-85 satellite repeatedly conducted communication sessions with the MAI Flight Control Center in July and August 2017 and continues to solve the tasks assigned to it.”

MAI did not respond to requests for comment on the current status of the cubesat.