Spaceflight Networks and Spire Partner on Smallsat Ground Network

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WASHINGTON — Spaceflight Networks is partnering with smallsat developer Spire on a network of ground stations that will provide a low-latency communications system for such satellites.

Seattle-based Spaceflight Networks, a subsidiary of Spaceflight Industries, said it will market and offer communications services using a network of ground stations that Spire is developing for its own constellation of GPS radio occultation satellites. Spaceflight will add those ground stations to its existing network of stations in Seattle, Alaska and New Zealand.

The companies argued that, as a growing number of companies announce plans for constellations of smallsats for Earth observation and other applications, they will need a distributed network of ground stations to rapidly distribute the data those satellites collect.

“The small-satellite revolution requires massive improvements in latency, data throughput and operating costs compared to what is available today,” Jason Andrews, chief executive of Spaceflight Industries, said in a July 13 statement announcing the agreement.

San Francisco-based Spire previously announced plans to develop a network of 20 ground stations by the end of the year to support its constellation of satellites it plans to start launching later this year. Nine of those ground stations, which support UHF and S-band communications, are currently in operation, the companies said. The companies expect the combined network to grow to 45 stations by the end of 2016.

“We deployed our own network of ground stations because nothing like it existed when we began, and we knew that low-latency is essential to capture the real value from a constellation of small satellites,” said Chris Wake, head of business operations for Spire, in a statement. “Spaceflight is now making that value readily accessible.”

Spaceflight also announced partnerships with three other companies. Tethers Unlimited, BitBeam and Syrlinks will manufacture spacecraft radios designed to be “immediately compatible” with the network of ground stations. Those radios, Spaceflight said, are designed for cubesats but can also be used on larger smallsats.