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Vector, Atlas Look to Simplify Smallsat Launch and Tracking

By | November 14, 2016
      Vector Space Systems prototype launch vehicle. Photo: Vector Space Systems

      Vector Space Systems prototype launch vehicle. Photo: Vector Space Systems

      [Via Satellite 11-11-2016] Vector Space Systems, a micro-satellite launch company currently trialing 12-foot prototypes of the company’s planned 42-foot launch vehicles, is now moving into tracking capabilities with the aim to bolster its launch profile and continue lowering the cost of launch for smallsat operators. Vector has partnered with Atlas Space Operations, a company that provides cloud-based solutions for space access, with the aim to diversify Vector’s launch tracking capabilities and provide a space-to-ground communication network through Atlas’ electronically steered array RF ground system, Links, by 2018.

      “Atlas has an approach to the technology behind the ground stations that makes them both powerful and portable, as well as configurable for a variety of uses. This allows Vector to use their existing and planned network of ground stations to track our launch vehicles from the launch site to orbit and recover telemetry from the launch vehicle and on-board satellite deployments without the need for expensive satellite based communications systems,” Jim Cantrell, CEO and co-founder of Vector Space Systems, told Via Satellite.

      If Vector has special launch geometry, Atlas’ technology allows for temporary, low-cost deployments to recover vehicle telemetry, according to Cantrell.

      The company will also be offering these network services to their satellite customers as a package that can help smallsat companies access cost-effective ground networking technology. Cantrell is hoping Vector’s technology and approach will help put the company at the forefront of supplying ground-network data traffic in the coming decade.

      Vector chose Atlas as their communications partner with the plan to use Atlas’ tech with Vector’s GalacticSky product line, a software-defined satellite solution planned for initial deployment in 2018.

      “[GalacticSky] will require an extensive and flexible ground communication network for on-orbit data recovery in real time as well as application, container and virtual machine lifecycle management. GalacticSky satellite cloud service combined with Atlas allows customers to upload and interact with fully virtualized applications on the orbiting satellites in a highly secure and reliable manner,” Cantrell said, noting that this communications infrastructure avoids the need for Vector to develop one on its own.

      The resulting solution will provide an “entirely virtualized environment” in space with optimized and management capabilities. When Atlas’ Links antenna component is installed to communicate with the company’s Freedom platform, which pushes data into the cloud, the system offers a single solution for mission planning, data reception, processing and dissemination, all of which are virtual. As traditional Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS)-based systems are too heavy for Vector to use and are an extensive addition to the company’s small launch vehicle, this will help to keep costs down for customers.

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      “When configured as an array, multiple electronically steered apertures can be configured to track specific satellite signals, not all elements in the array are tasked to detect and track a given frequency, leaving the remaining elements in the array available to track other satellites transmitting at different frequencies,” Sean McDaniels, CEO of Atlas, told Via Satellite.

      Already, the micro-satellite launch company has sold nearly 100 launches to customers primarily for companies with commercial satellite constellations where the spacecraft range in size from 12 kg to 50 kg, a business model driven by a high demand for data on a global scale.

      “The big data economy demands large quantities of information, as fast as possible, from space. We have witnessed this demand at the terrestrial level where companies like VMware, Amazon, Cisco, IBM, TerraData, Dell, HP are pushing the boundaries of technology to service this demand for information. Similarly, companies are racing to get their data collection platforms into space to capture their share of this rapidly expanding market. But collecting, retrieving, processing, and disseminating reliable data from space is far more complex,” said Cantrell.

      The Vector and Atlas partnership aims to reduce a large portion of this complexity, so the new space company can focus on its core business, building the satellite or applications for collecting data. The companies’ combined platform aims to supply the access to space, management and operational control of space applications, from launch to communications to data backhaul, on a global scale.

      Vector seeks to fuel this trend toward smallsat launches by providing affordable, rapid and reliable access to orbit.

      “This starts with the launch vehicles but eventually becomes our GalacticSky constellation, which fundamentally transforms the problem of getting an idea into space from one focused on building and flying hardware to a software problem that gets uploaded into the ‘space cloud’ a fully software-defined satellite,” said Cantrell.