Now that the launch is in the rear view mirror a couple months, we thought we’d take one last look at the deployment status.
As a quick review, SSO-A is the record-setting small satellite rideshare launch from the US, launching 49 cubesats, 15 microsats, and two free flying spacecraft carriers. Spaceflight launched SSO-A successfully on December 3, 2018 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in CA, and we now have confirmation that all expected deployments were successful.
The responsibility of tracking and identifying satellites lies with the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) in cooperation with the spacecraft owners. Spaceflight has worked closely with CSpOC to help them identify payloads and understand what they were seeing on orbit. On the website SpaceTrack.org, there are twenty two spacecraft from the SSO-A launch that are unclaimed by their owners, which means that CSpOC is tracking the spacecraft, but there is not enough information from the customer to confirm specific identity.
With a launch of this size, it is not unusual for the identification process to take some time and many variables influence the length of time it takes to make contact with a satellite, including the orbit, number of ground stations, transmitter frequency bandwidth, the experience of the operator, and good two-line elements (TLEs) that define the spacecraft’s orbit. With this launch there were customers that made contact with their spacecraft before the deployment sequence had even finished.
As of February 14, 2019, all but four spacecraft owners have reported successful contact with their spacecraft. These four cubesats are being tracked by CSpOC, but without positive radio contact, their identity cannot be confirmed. Although we hope that their owners soon make contact, it is increasingly likely that this will not happen. Cubesats are often used as low cost technology demonstrators, and sometimes they are not successful.
Our fingers are still crossed.