News from the 29th Small Satellite Conference

by

Small satellites are a big deal in Logan, Utah.

The city hosts the 29th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites on the campus of Utah State University Aug. 8-13, attracting more than 1,000 people for several days of technical sessions and networking events to discuss satellites weighing from a few hundred kilograms down to just one kilogram.

It’s not all work, though: there are receptions and parties, some sponsored by companies like Orbital ATK, Spaceflight Industries, and SpaceX — and, of course, late night discussions at the local watering hole, the White Owl.

Check back throughout the day for conference updates from SpaceNews senior staff writer Jeff Foust.



Rocket Lab Booking Smallsat Launches Online

Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck
Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck. Credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust

LOGAN, Utah — Rocket Lab, a U.S.-New Zealand company developing a small launch vehicle, has started booking payload slots on its upcoming launches online, an effort it says that has already resulted in sales.

The ordering system, available on the company’s website, allows customers to purchase slots for one-unit or three-unit cubesats on future launches of its Electron small launch vehicle. Prices range from $70,000 to $80,000 for a one-unit cubesat and $200,000 to $250,000 for a three-unit cubesat, for launches starting in the third quarter of 2016 and extending into 2019.

“In addition to affordable and frequent launch, making space accessible means giving customers information about what they can launch, when they can launch it, and how much it’s going to cost,” said Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, in an Aug. 10 statement. “Previously, this information has been widely difficult to access and the booking process was often cumbersome – now you can do this on your phone.” See More


Launch Failures Dent Growth in Small Satellites

Elizabeth Buchen, director of the engineering economics group of SpaceWorks Engineering, said the decline in satellites is primarily due to failures of Orbital ATK’s Antares and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicles in October 2014 and June 2015, respectively. Credit: NASA TV/SpaceNews
Elizabeth Buchen said the decline in satellites is primarily due to failures of Orbital ATK’s Antares and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicles in October 2014 and June 2015, respectively. Credit: NASA TV/SpaceNews

LOGAN, Utah — The number of small satellites launched in 2015 is likely to fall short of the growth predicted in recent forecasts because of launch failures that have reduced the number of launches available for such spacecraft.

“We think 2015 is going to be a little bit of a tough year,” said Elizabeth Buchen, director of the engineering economics group of Atlanta-based SpaceWorks Engineering, during an Aug. 12 presentation at the Conference on Small Satellites here.

A study released in early 2014 by SpaceWorks forecast launches of “nano/microsatellites,” which the company defines as those spacecraft weighing between 1 and 50 kilograms. That study estimated 140 to 143 such spacecraft would launch in 2014; the actual total was 158. See More


 

British Trade Mission Focuses On Smallsats

Craig Clark with UKube-1. Credit: Archibald Photography Ltd.
Craig Clark with UKube-1. Credit: Archibald Photography Ltd.

LOGAN, Utah — A trade mission to the United States this week organized by the British government seeks to introduce small satellite startup companies based in the U.K. with companies and investors in the U.S.

Nine British companies working with smallsat technologies and applications are participating in the week-long mission, including a stop at the Conference on Small Satellites here, seeking to identify new business opportunities and investments.

“There are a lot of new ideas coming through, so we picked cubesats as a theme for an entrepreneur’s mission,” said Tim Just, head of space for Innovate U.K., an economic development agency, during an interview here Aug. 11. Read More

 


JPL Studies Missions, Tech for Future Interplanetary Cubesats

The full-scale mock-up of NASA's MarCO CubeSat held by Farah Alibay, a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is dwarfed by the one-half-scale model of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter behind her. Credit: NASA/JPL
The full-scale mock-up of NASA’s MarCO CubeSat held by Farah Alibay, a JPL systems engineer, is dwarfed by the one-half-scale model of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter behind her. Credit: NASA/JPL

LOGAN, Utah — As NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory prepares its first two interplanetary cubesat spacecraft for launch next year, engineers are examining what other solar system missions such spacecraft could perform and the key technologies needed to enable them.

The Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission will fly a pair of six-unit cubesats to serve as real-time radio relays for NASA’s InSight Mars spacecraft as it enters the atmosphere. Most of the components for the two spacecraft have arrived at JPL, and assembly is slated to begin this week, said JPL’s Andrew Klesh in an Aug. 11 presentation at the Conference on Small Satellites here. The spacecraft are scheduled for completion Dec. 1 and launch in March 2016.

MarCO is one of several interplanetary cubesat missions under consideration at JPL. “We have really big plans to take these cubesats far into the solar system,” said Sara Spangelo of JPL in a presentation at the CubeSat Developers’ Workshop here Aug. 9. Read More


NASA Cubesat Launch Contract Expected By September

Garrett Skrobot. Credit: NASA
Garrett Skrobot. Credit: NASA

LOGAN, Utah — NASA expects to award a contract for dedicated launches of cubesats by the end of September, an agency official said Aug. 10.

Garrett Skrobot, mission manager for NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites program, said that he expects to award a contract for “Venture Class” launch services before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. NASA released the request for proposals for the program June 12, with responses due a month later.

“We have proposals in house that we’re reviewing right now,” he said during a NASA small satellite town hall meeting, held here during the Conference on Small Satellites. “Hopefully we’ll make selections…  Read More


Launching Smallsats And Herding Cats

Credit: Kathleen Murtagh via Flickr
Credit: Kathleen Murtagh via Flickr

LOGAN, Utah — Much of the recent attention devoted to small satellite launch opportunities has focused on the wave of dedicated launch vehicles under development. A presentation at the conference Aug. 10 by Carlos Niederstrasser and Warren Frick of Orbital ATK identified more than 20 such vehicles, from the existing Pegasus and Minotaur 1 to concepts still in the early design phase.

However, most of the presentations in the launch session of the conference were about secondary payload, or rideshare, opportunities. Hitching a ride to orbit on a larger launch vehicle remains the primary way most smallsats are launched today.

Some launches have taken launching smallsats to extremes. A Minotaur launch in November 2013 carried 31 smallsats from 20 different operators, noted Daniel Lim of TriSept Corp., which handled the integration of those smallsats for that launch. Doing so successfully requires careful planning … Read More


 Hyten: Military Will Follow, Not Lead, On Smallsat Systems

Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command
Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command. Credit: SpaceNews/Tom Kimmell

LOGAN, Utah — The head of Air Force Space Command said Aug. 10 that while he sees clear benefits to small satellite systems, he expects the military to follow the lead of commercial developments.

Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, in his keynote presentation at the Conference on Small Satellites at Utah State University, said that while he was interested in the potential of constellations of small satellites to provide new capabilities, as well as resilience against attack, the military would move relatively slowly to adopt those systems compared to industry.

“I guarantee you that the nature of the military is that we will walk into that slowly,” he said. “But when the commercial sector starts investing money and starts proving capabilities, just like in the launch business, we’re going to walk into that with eyes wide open and figure out how to take advantage of those capabilities.” Read More


Space War Is “Nuts”

“Goodness knows I never want to fight a war in space. Anybody in here who wants to fight a war in space is in the wrong business, because you’re nuts, because you want to threaten your entire livelihood by going to war in space. Because before long, war in space creates an environment that none of us can operate in. So we have to be able to prevent that war in space from ever happening. That has got to be the mantra of everybody in this industry.”

– Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, in a keynote speech Monday at the Conference on Small Satellites in Logan, Utah.