Fregat satellite deployment
An illustration of the deployment of small satellites from the Fregat upper stage during its July 14, 2018 launch. Credit: Glavkosmos

SAN FRANCISCO — At least eight of the nine cubesats sent by the Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket into a 600-kilometer orbit July 14 alongside a larger spacecraft, the Kanopus-V-IK Russian Earth-imaging satellite, are not responding to commands from their operators.

Three GeoOptics Cicero GPS radio-occultation satellites sent into that orbit are not functioning, according to a source who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the program. GeoOptics declined to comment based on a company policy not to confirm the status of individual satellites or launches.

In addition, the UTE-UESOR cubesat built cooperatively by Ecuador’s Equinoctial Technological University and the State University of Southwest Russia (UESOR) is not responding, Fausto Rodrigo Freire Carrera, UESOR representative in Ecuador, said by email.

The UTE-UESOR cubesat transmitted a beacon signal from July 15 to July 30 indicating a low battery. After July 30, the ground crew detected “sporadic fading signals” they could not decode, Carrera said.

“We are constantly monitoring the orbit,” Carrera said. “There are two to three daily orbits over Kursk, which are good for signal reception. We are hoping the battery will recharge from solar panels and we will gain full control of the satellite.”

Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems did not respond to requests for comment on whether its NanoACE technology demonstrator is working. GeoOptics’ Cicero satellites are based on Tyvak’s six-unit cubesat design.

On July 14, the Fregat upper stage sent 72 cubesats and small satellites into three different orbits. Nine cubesats traveled into a 600 kilometer orbit. Eight of those cubesats are not responding. The cubesats were built by UTE-UESOR, Dauria Aerospace, the Moscow Aviation Institute, Moscow State University and GeoOptics.

An executive for Glavkosmos, the company that arranged passage for the 72 small satellites on the July 14 Soyuz launch, said Aug. 31 that there is no evidence that rocket problems caused the cubesat failures.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...