LAS VEGAS — Quantum Space, a company founded earlier this year to develop spacecraft platforms in cislunar space, announced plans Oct. 26 for its first smallsat pathfinder mission that will collect space situational awareness data.
The QS-1 spacecraft, scheduled to launch in October 2024, will operate in cislunar space and carry a space situational awareness payload provided by GEOST as well as hosted payloads from other customers. Blue Canyon will provide the bus for the spacecraft, which will have a mass of up to 400 kilograms.
“We intend on demonstrating the ability to operate and navigate in cislunar space,” Ben Reed, chief technology officer at Quantum Space, said in an interview during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ ASCEND conference. “We are going to be collecting space domain awareness and space situational awareness data.”
That data will come from the GEOST payload, a visible imager that will scan cislunar space. GEOST develops similar sensors for other space situational awareness missions, including winning a Space Force contract last year to provide optical sensor payloads to monitor geosynchronous orbit.
“There’s benefit to be able to look for known objects where we believe they are and retrack them to make sure they are where we believe they are,” said Sue Hall, vice president of programs at Quantum Space, in the interview. “It will also make sure that, in certain volumes of space, there aren’t things that should not be there.”
Reed cited the example of a rocket body earlier this year that hit the moon that was originally identified as being from a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch but later linked to a Chinese mission. The difficulty in identifying it stemmed from a lack of tracking. “There are there more objects like that. We’d love to be able to identify them for the global community and make them aware of where they are.”
That tracking will become increasing important, he added, given plans for a growing number of lunar missions by governments and companies around the world. “As more satellites start transiting through that volume, we think it’s important that there be the ability to collect information on those objects.”
QS-1 will also be able to accommodate hosted payloads, although Quantum Space has not announced any specific customers or their payloads. Reed said the company was contacted by one unnamed organization looking for a ride for a payload but has not otherwise been actively marketing the hosted payload opportunities yet.
He emphasized the hosted payloads were optional. “We don’t need the hosted payloads to close the mission,” he said, and that QS-1 would fly on its current schedule regardless of which payloads, if any, were available to fly on it.
Quantum Space selected Blue Canyon for the bus based on its with smallsat bus. “They’re uniquely positioned in this space, they have experience with this type and size of bus,” Hall said.
“Our Saturn product, with key enhancements for deep space, will provide Quantum Space with an architecture that has been designed specifically for these types of missions,” said Jeff Schrader, president of Blue Canyon, in a statement.
The spacecraft will also have a “fairly large” propulsion system, Hall said. While Quantum Space has not disclosed launch plans for QS-1, she said the spacecraft will operate around the Earth-moon L-1 Lagrange point, between the Earth and moon, or the L-2 point beyond the far side of the moon, potentially moving between them. It will communicate with commercial ground stations over its three-year mission.
Quantum Space did not disclose the cost of QS-1, although Reed said that the mission is fully funded through launch.
The company unveiled its plans in February when it had only five employees, said Reed, who is one of the co-founders with Kam Ghaffarian and Steve Jurczyk, a former NASA associate administrator who is president and chief executive of Quantum Space. Reed said the company is now up to 25 people, mostly at its Rockville, Maryland, headquarters, and expects to grow to more than 50 by next summer.
When Quantum Space announced its plans for cislunar missions in February, the company said it would start with a smallsat mission, and Reed said QS-1 is that mission. At the time the company said its vision was to create spacecraft platforms in cislunar space called outposts that could be serviced.
Reed said the company is still studying what that long-term architecture will be. “We’re continuing to explore options and figuring out what sort of services we’ll be providing further down the road.” He added that the smallsat mission is called QS-1 “because there will be more behind it.”