ExoAnalytic, NorthStar E&S team up on space situational awareness

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WASHINGTON — ExoAnalytic Solutions, a company that tracks satellites and space debris using ground-based telescopes, announced a partnership April 1 with NorthStar Earth and Space, a Canadian startup developing a constellation of 40 satellites that will track objects in space.

Foothill Ranch, California-based ExoAnalytic owns and operates more than 300 telescopes that can spot objects in low Earth orbit down to 10 centimeters, CEO Doug Hendrix said in an interview. But having only ground-based telescopes means the company can only make observations under the right conditions.

“When you’re on the ground you’ve got the atmosphere to contend with, and you’ve got weather to contend with,” he said. “Our ability to look at low Earth orbiting satellites from the ground is limited a bit.”

NorthStar E&S is designing a constellation of 40 satellites with The Space Alliance, a joint effort of Franco-Italian companies Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio that participated in NorthStar E&S’s 52 million Canadian dollar ($38 million) capital raise in November. Stewart Bain, CEO of NorthStar E&S, said the company and The Space Alliance are finalizing the design now and preparing to commence manufacturing “as soon as possible.”

By collaborating with ExoAnalytic, NorthStar E&S will get experience developing products before its satellites are in orbit, Bain said.

NorthStar E&S’ satellites are projected to weigh about 700 kilograms. They will carry hyperspectral and infrared cameras for Earth observation and optical cameras for monitoring orbits, including low, medium and geostationary.

Bain said recent events like India’s March 27 anti-satellite test highlight growing concerns about space debris. The U.S. Air Force said March 29 it was tracking more than 250 pieces of space debris from the satellite, believed to be Microsat-R, that India destroyed using a ground-based missile. India’s Ministry of External Affairs said the anti-satellite test destroyed a satellite at an altitude of 300 kilometers, low enough to minimize the risk of long-lasting space debris.

Hendrix said ExoAnalytic hasn’t tracked debris from that incident, citing a lack of a business case to support the effort. Space-based sensors could make such observations easier, though, he said.

Bain said NorthStar E&S aims to have commercial service in 2021. He declined to say how many satellites it would have in orbit by then beyond that it will be less than the full 40-satellite constellation.