Satellite news in brief 18 August 2021

Airbus, JUICE, Arianespace, OneWeb, Pléiades Neo Earth observation constellation, ThinKom Solutions, Honeywell

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Last stop on Earth at Airbus before odyssey to Jupiter for JUICE: The Airbus-built JUICE spacecraft, (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer mission) developed for the European Space Agency (ESA)  has arrived in Toulouse, where it will stay for its final assembly and test campaign at Airbus’ satellite integration centre, before being shipped to Kourou in French Guiana for launch on Ariane 5. After three months of intense activities for thermal vacuum testing in the Large Space Simulator (LSS) chamber at the ESA test centre at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, JUICE is back at Airbus, the prime contractor. Unusually, it was transported by air to Toulouse, to save time so that it remains on track to meet the tight interplanetary schedule to reach the Jovian system. Cyril Cavel, JUICE project Manager at Airbus said on arrival: “It’s the first time I have seen a satellite arriving in Toulouse by plane, which shows the importance of this mission for ESA and the scientific community. Now we at Airbus have to build on the great work of all of our industrial and scientific partners. I can’t wait for this ambitious mission to launch and to see the tremendous progress to human knowledge it will bring – even though we will have to wait almost 10 years, before it arrives at Jupiter.” The 6.2 ton JUICE spacecraft will set off in 2022 on its near 600 million-kilometre long journey to Jupiter. The spacecraft will carry 10 state-of-the-art scientific instruments, including cameras, spectrometers, an ice-penetrating radar, an altimeter, a radio-science experiment, and sensors to monitor electric and magnetic fields and the plasma environment in the Jovian system. JUICE will complete a unique tour of the Jupiter system that will include in-depth studies of three potentially ocean-bearing moons: Ganymede, Europa and Callisto. During its four year-long mission, JUICE will collect data to understand the conditions for giant gaseous planet formation and the emergence of deep life habitats. It will spend nine months orbiting the icy moon Ganymede analysing its nature and evolution, characterising its sub-surface ocean, and investigating its potential habitability.

Arianespace supports OneWeb’s ambitions by increasing its fleet of satellites: The next Arianespace mission is planned from Baikonur Cosmodrome with Soyuz on August 20 (local time), to deliver 34 satellites into orbit bringing the total OneWeb’s fleet to 288 satellites in Low Earth Orbit. Flight ST34, the first commercial mission performed by Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in 2021, after four successful launches from Vostochny earlier this year, will put 34 of OneWeb’s satellites into a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 450 kilometres. The mission will have a total duration of three hours and 45 minutes and will include a first separation of two satellites followed by eight separations of four satellites, which will raise themselves to their operational orbit. This ninth launch to the benefit of OneWeb will raise to 288 the number of satellites deployed for the global telecommunications operator. This launch represents a straight continuation of the ambition carried and achieved by the previous one. On July 1st, ST33 placed into orbit enough satellites to enable connectivity services to the 50th parallel and above by years end which includes Canada, U.K., Northern Europe, Alaska and Arctic regions. OneWeb’s launch campaign will continue thereafter as it works toward delivering global service in 2022. OneWeb’s constellation will deliver high-speed, low-latency connectivity services to a wide range of customer sectors including aviation, maritime, backhaul services, as well as governments, emergency response services and more. Central to its purpose, OneWeb seeks to bring connectivity to every place where fibre cannot reach, and thereby bridge the digital divide. Once deployed, the OneWeb constellation will enable user terminals that are capable of offering 3G, LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi coverage, providing high-speed access globally – by air, sea and land. OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space, is the constellation’s prime contractor. The satellites were built thanks to its leading-edge satellite manufacturing process that can build up to two satellites a day on a series production line dedicated to the assembly, integration, and testing of the satellites.

Pléiades Neo 4 successfully launched: Pléiades Neo 4, the second satellite of the Pléiades Neo Earth observation constellation, was successfully launched by Arianespace’s European launcher Vega from French Guiana on 16 August. Pléiades Neo 4 was released from the launch vehicle, very close to its final 620-km sun-synchronous polar orbit, which it will reach within the next few days. The satellite will be phased 180° with Pléiades Neo 3 on the same orbit to start forming a constellation. This will enable daily imaging of any place on Earth at 30cm native resolution, and between two and four times a day when the four-satellite constellation is complete. “Pléiades Neo will offer a truly best-in-class capability to our customers and will strongly enhance our position in the very high-resolution market” said François Lombard, Head of Intelligence at Airbus Defence and Space. “The first images from Pléiades Neo 3 are outstanding and confirm that we took the right decision in terms of design and performance to address the increasingly demanding requirements of the geospatial sector.” Comprising four identical satellites, the 100% Airbus manufactured, owned and operated Pléiades Neo constellation offers a native resolution of 30cm with an imaging swath of 14km, the widest in its category. Thanks to their unmatched agility, the constellation will be able to cover the entire Earth landmass five times per year. The new satellites will work hand in hand with the existing Pléiades satellites and the rest of the Airbus dozen-strong Earth observation satellite fleet. The highly innovative design of the Pléiades Neo spacecraft is equipped with the next-generation silicon carbide optical instrument, building on the technology that Airbus first pioneered in the early 2000s. The Pléiades Neo constellation will also benefit from laser optical and Ka-band links with the Airbus SpaceDataHighway (EDRS) geostationary satellites to enable urgent acquisitions less than 40 minutes after tasking, to swiftly respond to the most critical situations.

ThinKom unveils VICTS antennas for space payloads: ThinKom Solutions announced the development of a new family of phased-array antennas for deployment on satellites and other space vehicles. The antennas are based on ThinKom’s proven VICTS (Variable Inclination Continuous Transverse Stub) technology. The multi-frequency full-duplex antennas are designed for operation on geostationary and non-geostationary satellites using C-, X-, Ku-, Ka-, Q-, V-, E- and W-band frequencies. They can provide steerable high-capacity inter-satellite links as well as space-to-earth and earth-to-space feeder and user links. The new ThinKom payload antennas are compact and lightweight, with a 30-cm diameter antenna weighing less than 5 kg. They can be nested for multi-beam applications without the blockages that can occur with multiple parabolic dish arrays. They can also support digital beam forming within regional user beams. The space payload VICTS antennas are designed with an aluminum structure and space-compatible components to function reliably under extreme conditions of radiation, shock, vibration and temperature. The compact highly reliable conformal arrays do not require any post-launch deployment mechanisms, eliminating the added weight and complexity of traditional satellite antenna systems. The high-efficiency VICTS antenna architecture enables a smaller mounting size and volume for a given level of performance, as well as lower inertia than traditional satellite designs. The result is extremely low power consumption, a critical requirement for space applications. Other key features include 80-degree scan angle coverage, wide instantaneous channel bandwidth up to 2 GHz, polarisation diversity, low sidelobe emissions and continuous jitterless high-agility scanning.

Pipistrel opts for Honeywell UAV satcom for UAVs: A Honeywell breakthrough in compact satellite communications technology will bring the safety, connectivity and efficiency trusted for decades by airplane manufacturers and airlines to three of Pipistrel’s exciting new aircraft, including the fixed-wing Surveyor and both unmanned Nuuva platforms, the V300 and smaller V20. Weighing in at only 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), Honeywell’s Small UAV SATCOM system is 90% lighter than the company’s next smallest connectivity system, yet it brings the same capabilities enjoyed by larger aircraft to the Nuuva V300, V20 and Surveyor. Honeywell’s offering, a highly innovative and popular product targeting a rapidly growing new market segment, will for the first time be implemented specifically on an unmanned cargo or optionally manned aerial vehicle. “We are excited to offer our customers a global communication solution, which is location independent and cost-effective,” said Pipistrel CEO Ivo Boscarol. “The addition of Honeywell’s Small UAV SATCOM to our unmanned aircraft platforms unlocks global beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) connectivity for command-control, as well as mission-specific data relay. Our customers will enjoy the ability to connect to their assets anytime, anywhere, without the need to set up elaborate ground-based BVLOS infrastructure.” The system provides unmanned aerial vehicles with global coverage and real-time video streaming to the ground. It also enables beyond-line-of-sight capabilities, so vehicles can be operated remotely beyond the operator’s visual sight. It can be used for a variety of applications, including logistics and delivery services performed by UAVs. Also, the Small UAV SATCOM can keep vehicles connected even in remote areas or over water where other ground-based communications systems, such as 4G, are not available. Pipistrel’s Nuuva V300 is a long-range, large-capacity, autonomous UAV. It will take off and land vertically with battery power, meaning it does not require a runway, and has significantly lower operating costs than helicopters. It can carry loads up to 460 kilograms (~1010 pounds) for more than 300 kilometers (~186 miles), making it an ideal solution for deliveries to areas traditionally accessible only by helicopter. Its smaller sibling, the Nuuva V20, shares the same architecture and advantages of the larger V300, but is designed to serve as a lighter cargo transport vehicle carrying loads of up to 20 kg.

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