Ground Control to Major Tom: The Debut of Spaceflight Networks

By Jason Andrews, CEO Spaceflight Industries

We all read regularly that launching satellites is the bottleneck to the smallsat revolution – organizations are struggling to find cost effective, routine, and timely options to get on a desired orbit. We understand that; it’s one of the reasons why we started Spaceflight and created the market for “rideshare.” But we also hear from those who are lucky enough to get on orbit that it’s equally challenging to operate their spacecraft. Getting data back efficiently and affordably is the next obvious hurdle for most organizations, and one we are poised to help our customers soar through.

We launched Spaceflight Networks two years ago to revolutionize satellite communications. Our goal was simple: standardize both the ground and spacecraft radios so anyone could “log on and buy a data plan,” much like you’d buy a data plan for your cell phone. It took a little longer than we had hoped to bring it to market, but I’m excited to announce we now have three fully operational ground stations and more coming on line soon.

Current stations include:

  • Fairbanks, Alaska: UHF yagi and 7.5 meter S-/X-band antenna
  • Invercargill, New Zealand: UHF yagi and 3.7 meter S-/X-band antenna
  • Seattle, Washington: UHF yagi antenna

Our architecture was built from the ground up to be highly automated and scalable.  Within a secure cloud-based environment, our remote antenna operations are automated. Further, we have the ability to operate the entire architecture in a lights-out fashion, but have staff available as required.

For the past six months we have been tracking and communicating with NASA spacecraft to test and operationalize the system in advance of our BlackSky Pathfinder-1 launch. The preparation has paid off!  Since the launch of Pathfinder-1 on September 25th (Seattle time) we have had 100% up-time and conducted over 200 passes in a four-week period.

Image of the mission operations team in Spaceflight Industries' Network Operations Center
Image of the mission operations team in Spaceflight Industries’ Network Operations Center

Now that our network  is operational and proven, we are beginning to support additional customers.  Further, we will begin our expansion plans in 2017 to accommodate additional spacecraft and minimize system latency to support the emerging constellations (read a great example of responsive operations here).

Learn more about our specific network build-out plans here and let us know how we can help you jump over the last critical hurdle of operating your spacecraft.

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