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SpaceX has launched over 50 European small satellites in a record breaking launch on Sunday.

ExoLaunch in Germany coordinated the 30 satellites in a range of launchers, including one that was used for the first time aboard the Transporter 1 payload. D-Orbit in Italy co-ordinated a further 22.

The PIXL-1 mission from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) used a 400g laser relay cubesat called CubeLCT developed by DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation in close cooperation with Tesat-Spacecom (TESAT) in Backnang. The satellite. launched by ExoLaunch, was built and integrated by Danish company GomSpace. CubeLCT is a laser relay terminal that measures 9.5 x 9.5 x 3.25 cm and provides a data rate up to 100Mbit/s for quantum key distribution (QKD) technology in future missions.

“CubeLCT is a creative architecture, which combines optics and electronics in an ultra-compact terminal, which is furthermore designed for series production” said Prof. Christoph Günther, Institute’s Director of the DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation. Christoph Günther further said: “Our aim is to push the boundaries of the feasible and to be the first ones in demonstrating game-changing technologies. We are happy to launch CubeLCT into orbit on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 using cutting-edge deployment solutions by Exolaunch.”

Exolaunch used its flexible multi-port adapter EXOport for the first time with separation systems and sequencers to ensure precise deployment of small satellites into their target orbit.

“Through our partnership with SpaceX, Exolaunch has become the bridge for multiple European smallsat developers and others from around the world interested to launch on Falcon 9,” said Jeanne Medvedeva, Vice President of Launch Services at Exolaunch. “As the SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program takes off and expands, more organizations will have the opportunity to launch their satellites into orbit though our tailored, flight-proven, and cost-effective launch and deployment solutions.”

Another of the CubeSats in the ExoLauch deployment was SOMP2b, developed by the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden). This is an educational and hands-on project also funded by DLR. This was designed as a 2U cubesat to examine new nanomaterials under the extreme conditions of space, to test systems for converting solar heat into electrical current and to precisely measure the residual atmosphere around the satellite. It is intended to operate scientific payloads and to demonstrate the functionality of a very highly integrated satellite design.

Next: IoT nano satellites


The CubeSat includes ‘FIPEXnano’ for conducting in-situ measurements of residual species in space, ‘TEG’ for testing power harvesting technologies, and ‘CiREX’ for characterising carbon nanotube-based materials under space conditions. The satellite will fly in a special polar, sun-synchronous orbit at 500km and always fly over the ground station of the TU Dresden at approximately the same time of the day every day, sending its measurement data down.

Swiss IoT nanosatellite network operator Astrocast sent up ten of its systems on the launch. Developed with Airbus and CEA in France, the nanosats use a low-cost ASIC and data-protocol that provides the most power-efficient satellite modem for IoT applications. 

D-orbit in Italy sent up its ION Satellite Carrier, which carried 22 satellites, including eight SuperDoves from US Earth imaging company Planet Labs. The Carrier will also deployed two optical payloads from EICAS Automazione and Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC).

ICEYE in Finland, which has raised a total of $152m for its radar imaging satellite network, also launched three satellites on Transporter1. The ridesharing approach dramatically reduces the cost of a launch, down to as little as $2000 for the smallest craft.  

Other satellites in the rideshare inlcuded rhose Hawkeye 360 in the US, Kepler in Canada and Spire Global, a US data satellite operator that in December raised a €20 million venture loan from the European Investment Bank for its campus in Luxembourg.

The previous record for the number of satellites in a single launch was 107 in 2018.

There were also 10 more of the SpaceX StarLink broadband data satellites in the payload.

The Falcon 9 rocket and the fairings used to protect the satellites were recovered to be re-used.

www.spaceX.com; www.exolaunch.com

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