A fleet of 11 Flock 1c small satellites were launched on a mission to generate virtually live high-resolution images of Earth with resolutions of three to five meters. The satellites are designed, developed, manufactured and operated by Planet Labs based in San Francisco.
The lower Flock 1 constellation orbits between 240 and 400 miles above Earth. The 11 Flock 1c satellites, just launched, are in higher polar orbits. The Flock 1 satellites use an X-Band system for the downlink of acquired images and systems telemetry at data rates of up to 120Mbit/s. Primary command uplink is done via S-Band, although a low-speed Telemetry and Command System operating in the UHF band.
About one-third of the 37 small satellites carried Amateur Radio packages. Among the Amateur Radio payloads now in orbit is FUNcube-3, a transponder-only payload. It carries an 400 mW SSB/CW transponder, with an uplink passband of 435.035-435.065 MHz (Lower Sideband) and a downlink passband of 145.935-145.965 MHz (USB).
Meanwhile a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is anticipated to launch on July 14/15 to expand Orbcomm’s capacity with 6, second-generation OG2 spacecraft. SpaceX is scheduled to launch 11 more satellites on another Falcon 9 rocket before the end of the year to round out the upgraded fleet.
The satellites based on a SN-100 platform will join the Orbcomm’s 25 operating first-generation satellites and two ship-tracking satellites used by the company, according to Marc Eisenberg, CEO of Orbcomm. The second-generation constellation will have about 100 times the overall capacity of the existing satellites..
Orbcomm is paying SpaceX $42.6 million for the two Falcon 9 launches, a discount from the approximately $60 million per launch price advertised on SpaceX’s website. As the first commercial customer to pay for a SpaceX launch, Orbcomm secured a low price for two Falcon 9 flights.
Built by Sierra Nevada Corp., the Orbcomm OG2 satellites will provide enhanced ORBCOMM messaging capabilities, increased capacity, and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to track vessels in the open ocean.
The SN-100 platform allows payload data downlink rates of 1 to 310 Mbps and telecom data rates of up to 4 Mbps for up- and downlink. The platform hosts 256 Mbytes of volatile and 16 Mytes of non-volatile memory.
The payload of the OG2 satellites is a VHF communications terminal operating at frequencies of 137 to 153 MHz. It features a Helical Quadrifilar antenna with an 8-meter long boom. The OG2 satellites operate from a circular orbit of 750 Kilometers at an inclination of 52 degrees with the satellites in different planes.
Orbcomm’s messaging satellites, unlike the Iridium Next constellation or GlobalStar’s 32 LEO satellites don’t allow global voice communications with continuous connectivity. They store and forward messaging.
Both Iridium and GlobalStar plan new M2M services, in competition to Orbcomm, by allowing independent contractors to “piggyback” independent hosted services on their satellite platforms.
Iridium NEXT is expected to launch beginning in 2015. It will also consist of 66 satellites, with six in-orbit and nine on-ground spares. In total, SpaceX will launch 70 satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation over two years. Iridium is SpaceX’s largest commercial customer, with an investment of $453.1 million.
Iridium NEXT will host payloads. Space is now fully allocated to two entities, Aireon for its space-based aircraft surveillance application and Harris Corporation for additional auxiliary payloads. Customers can use a whole satellite’s payload capacity, or just share that capacity with other applications and customers that Iridium brings together. Enabled by Harris’ 81 space-qualified ADS-B receivers, the system relies on two avionics components—a GPS navigation source and a datalink (ADS-B unit).
Globalstar also plans a space-based air traffic management system that will compliment ground-based ADS-B on their next generation constellation. ADS-B may replace radar as the primary method for controlling aircraft worldwide. It’s a true over-the-horizon air traffic surveillance system capable of delivering Air Traffic Control (ATC) automation. Aircraft equipped with ADS-B transponders relay precise aircraft location and other flight information to both air-traffic controllers and other ADS-B-equipped planes, much like marine-based AIS systems.
The leading MSS operator, Inmarsat, announced its Global Xpress (GX) Ka-band service back in 2010, and three Ka-band satellites (I-5), each providing 89 fixed spot-beams with over 20 times more capacity than the current satellites in orbit.
The first I-5 satellite was launched in late 2013, and two additional I-5 satellites are expected to be launched later this year, for a start of global GX service sometime in early 2015, delivering up to 50 Mbps per ship.
ViaSat, which provides high-speed Internet to homes in the U.S. under the Exede brand name, has been pushing into the in-flight Wi-Fi market. They inked a roaming deal with French satellite firm Eutelsat that will allow it to offer in-flight Wi-Fi and other satellite broadband services in Europe and the Middle East.
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