SpaceX, L3Harris win missile-warning satellite contracts from US military

The U.S. military has picked SpaceX and L3Harris Technologies to build up a new missile-warning satellite system in space.

In separate contracts, SpaceX and L3Harris will each provide four infrared satellites devoted to missile tracking as part of the larger National Defense Space Architecture program. The contract, awarded by the Department of Defense’s Space Development Agency (SDA), gives $193.5 million to L3Harris and $149 million to SpaceX. The satellites should be ready by the end of fiscal year 2022. 

“The satellites will be able to provide missile tracking data for hypersonic glide vehicles, and the next generation of advanced missile threats,” Derek Tournear, SDA director, said in a statement.

Related: What is a ballistic missile and how does it work?

SpaceX, originally a launch provider using its Falcon rockets, has entered the satellite construction market with its Starlink constellation of internet satellites. The company has launched more than 700 of the satellites in the last two years  and manufactures them at a facility in Seattle, Washington. L3Harris is an aerospace company with a history of military contracts for aircraft and missile defense. 

The new missile-tracking satellites will provide information to a separate set of 28 “transport satellites,” which will take offensive action based on what the missile trackers find. Construction for the 28 transport satellites will be awarded in a separate solicitation, SDA added.

“The transport satellites are the backbone of the National Defense Space Architecture,” Tournear said. “They take data from multiple tracking systems, fuse those, and are able to calculate a fire control solution, and then the transport satellites will be able to send those data down directly to a weapons platform via a tactical data link, or some other means.”

Taken together, the transport satellites and the missile-tracking satellites will be the first “tranche”

GHGSat lauds performance of methane-monitoring satellite

SAN FRANCISCO — GHGSat, the Canadian firm preparing to launch a constellation of methane-monitoring satellites, announced Oct. 8 that the sensor on its Iris satellite launched in early September detects methane emissions five times as well as Claire, its predecessor. 

GHGSat tested the Iris sensor by flying the satellite over a controlled methane release in Alberta, Canada. The company compared the sensor data with measurements captured by sensors on the ground and in an aircraft, according to an Oct. 8 news release.

“Satellites are complex devices and it takes time to fully characterize instruments and optimize processing software to filter out noise from the signal,” GHGSat CEO Stephane Germain said in a statement. “We have just begun that process with Iris. We expect Iris to attain 10 times better performance than Claire and are now even more confident that we will validate that performance in the coming weeks.”

GHGSat launched Iris Sept. 2 on an Arianespace Vega rocket from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou.

GHGSat plans to launch Hugo, another methane-sensing satellite, later this year. By the end of 2022, the company plans to launch nine additional satellites.

GHGSat’s goal is to detect and quantify methane emissions from sources as small as individual oil and gas wells. “No other commercial operator or state-funded space organization can do this,” according to the GHGSat news release.

GHGSat also announced an agreement Oct. 6 with ABB Measurement & Analytics Canada to manufacture sensors for three methane-monitoring satellites.

ABB, a multinational corporation, built sensors for government satellites for decades before working with GHGSat, its first commercial space customer.

“We are currently seeing extensive innovation brought about by private initiatives in the space industry,” Marc Corriveau, ABB Measurement & Analytics Canada general manager, said in a statement. “At ABB we have built up a

Space debris a frequent topic at Satellite Innovation 2020

SAN FRANCISCO – Tracking and avoiding the growing debris field in low Earth orbit was clearly on the minds of speakers on the first day of the Satellite Innovation 2020 conference.

“Today, unfortunately, there is a lot of debris up there,” said Tony Gingiss, OneWeb Satellites CEO. “We have to be able to track it and avoid it. But fundamentally, we also have to change the landscape in terms of … the responsibilities of the parties operating up there to actually make sure that we’re not creating more debris.”

As OneWeb, SpaceX and Amazon begin as a group to send tens of thousands of satellites into broadband constellations, industry and government officials acknowledge the growing risk of collisions.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering changing its rules for orbital debris mitigation, which have been in force since 2004.

“It’s pretty clear that the large constellation operators recognize that they’re going to have to take some extra steps and extra care because of the level of activity they are engaged in,” said Karl Kensinger, FCC Satellite Division deputy chief.

To mitigate the debris problem, companies can design rockets and satellites to avoid creating debris. Satellite operators also need to keep tabs on satellites that maneuver frequently plus 250,000 pieces of small debris in low Earth orbit, said Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs founder and CEO. Earlier this year, LeoLabs unveiled a collision-avoidance service.

Ultimately, government agencies and companies will need to clean up debris like massive rocket upper stages that pose the most significant risk because a single hit or breakup could “create thousands or tens of thousands of new pieces of debris,” Ceperley said. “It’s the sort of thing where in an instant, you could see the amount of debris in low Earth orbit go up by a factor of 25 or

Elon Musk: Public Beta for SpaceX’s Satellite Internet Will Start Soon

(Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has successfully launched another 60 satellites into orbit, clearing the way for the public beta of its Starlink satellite broadband network to begin.

“Once these satellites reach their target position, we will be able to roll out a fairly wide public beta in northern US and hopefully southern Canada,” CEO Elon Musk tweeted today.

The Starlink satellite broadband network can currently deliver 100Mbps download speeds with latency at around 30 milliseconds, which is on par with ground-based internet services. 

However, Starlink’s main selling point is that SpaceX will theoretically be able to deliver fast broadband to anyone on Earth with a satellite dish outside their home. As a result, customer interest in the upcoming broadband network has been high, especially among users based in rural areas or small towns, who lack access to fast internet speeds. 

With today’s successful launch, SpaceX now has about 770 satellites in orbit to power Starlink. However, the satellites have been generally orbiting around the Earth along the higher latitudes, where cities such as Seattle are located. So for now, the company is first targeting the northern US and southern Canada for the public beta. 

The company plans to expand to lower latitudes, including areas over Texas, three months from now as SpaceX sends more satellites into orbit. “Average latency will improve as more satellites launch (directly above you more frequently) and more ground stations are deployed,” Musk said in a tweet last Thursday. “As we’re able to put more ground stations on roofs of server centers, legacy Internet latency will be zero.”

The long-term plan is to eventually launch thousands of more satellites so Starlink can supply 1Gbps internet speeds to those on Earth. SpaceX is currently asking interested users to sign up for email updates to learn more about

SpaceX aborts Starlink satellite launch attempt

NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy, serving as commander of the Expedition 63 mission aboard the International Space Station, took these photos of Hurricane Laura as it continued to strengthen in the Gulf of Mexico on August 25. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo