Launch of the first NorthStar SSA satellites in 2023 by Virgin Orbit

WASHINGTON — NorthStar Earth and Space, a company that plans a constellation of satellites to collect space situational awareness data, will launch its first satellites in mid-2023 with Virgin Orbit.

NorthStar announced Oct. 27 that its first three satellites, 12-unit cubesats built by Spire, will be launched by Virgin Orbit in mid-2023. The companies did not disclose the terms of the launch agreement or where the launch, using Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne aerial launch system, will take place.

NorthStar announced in March a contract with Spire for these three satellites, which is part of Spire’s “space as a service” business model, in which it builds and operates satellites for other customers in addition to those in its own constellation. Spire announced on October 12 a launch agreement with Virgin Orbit covering multiple LauncherOne missions over several years, starting in 2023.

“We are proud that NorthStar is leveraging our space services model and our established space, ground and web infrastructure to rapidly deploy its constellation,” said Joel Sparks, co-founder and general manager of space services at Spire, in a statement. communicated.

The satellites are the first of a constellation of 24 spacecraft planned by NorthStar to collect commercial SSA data. NorthStar plans to place the satellites in eight orbital planes of three satellites each, scanning from low Earth orbit to track satellites and debris. NorthStar’s deal with Spire includes options for “dozens” of additional satellites.

NorthStar has not disclosed many technical details about the satellite system, including how many objects it can track or the accuracy of the SSA data they will produce. Stewart Bain, chief executive of NorthStar, told a talk Oct. 28 at the NewSpace Europe conference in Luxembourg that the satellites will be able to track objects to geostationary orbit and cislunar space, but won’t did not discuss the details of these satellites. ‘ abilities.

The constellation of satellites, he said, would complement existing SSA systems, citing the Space Fence radar operated by the US Space Force on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific as an example. “It does not replace it. It helps,” he said.

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