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US Navy Picks Blue Canyon for CIRCE Mission

By | October 31, 2019

A Blue Canyon Technologies cubsat built for NASA. Photo: Blue Canyon Technologies

Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) was selected by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to support a combined initiative between the U.S. Department of the Navy and the U.K. Ministry of Defense for a demonstration mission called CIRCE. The mission is scheduled to launch in March of 2020.

CIRCE, which stands for Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment, will utilize two 6U CubeSats flying in tandem formation in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) to measure the ionosphere and radiation environment space from multiple vantage points. The BCT-built CubeSats will also have a low-latency data link to enable operational responsiveness. NRL will provide two ultraviolet photometers per satellite to measure the naturally occurring airglow and determine ionospheric structure. The UK Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, or DSTL, will provide the remaining three payloads per satellite. DSTL’s payload system, known as IRIS, is a combination of three payloads that include a topside GPS receiver to measure electron densities and content, an ion and neutral mass spectrometer and a compact radiation sensor.

“The structure and density of the ionosphere can vary quite a bit, day-to-day, depending on what the Sun is doing. Since space weather affects satellite communications and radar, a thorough understanding of the environment is essential to commonly used satellite infrastructure like GPS and communications systems. These low-cost, compact satellites will demonstrate advanced methods for understanding the space environment to benefit systems and users that depend on a reliable space infrastructure,” said Matt Pallas, CIRCE Program Manager at Blue Canyon Technologies.