Astranis adds an extra year of life to the design of small GEO satellites

TAMPA, Fla. — Astranis’ improvements to the propulsion systems of four small satellites slated for launch in 2023 will add at least another year to their operational life, according to CEO John Gedmark.

The San Francisco-based startup added “a very sleek gimbal design to our electric propulsion system,” Gedmark said in an interview, allowing future satellites to use less propellant when maneuvering in orbit.

“That means we’re now going to get, conservatively, an extra year of life,” Gedmark said, “from seven years to eight years.”

The gimbal is an internal Astranis design, a company spokesperson added, and is not purchased from an outside vendor.

Astranis announced on April 7 that it had signed a contract with SpaceX to reserve a Falcon 9 rocket dedicated to the launch of its latest generation of satellites.

SpaceX is also slated to fly Astranis’ first commercial Arcturus satellite this year as a secondary payload on a Falcon Heavy, which will launch Viasat’s first ViaSat-3 satellite on its primary mission. Although this launch has slipped from spring to late summer, Gedmark expects this will still be Falcon Heavy’s first commercial mission this year.

Astranis builds and secures the launches of the satellites it develops, which at around 400 kilograms are among the smallest in the GEO industry, and provides the capacity through long-term leases.

The company has entered into an agreement to lease Arcturus to US telecommunications company Pacific Dataport Inc (PDI) for broadband coverage in Alaska.

Gedmark said SpaceNews in September that, although a secondary payload, the Falcon Heavy will place Arcturus on a direct injection mission that will allow the satellite to arrive at its orbital slot within days of liftoff.

By comparison, a GEO satellite can take months from orbit to reach an operational position after launching on a Falcon 9 to a highly elliptical geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), requiring more fuel.

However, Astranis said its payload of four satellites on SpaceX’s 2023 mission — two for inflight connectivity provider Anuvu, one for Peruvian phone company Andesat and another which has not announced a customer — ​is well below the maximum payload capacity for a Falcon 9.

This means that the satellites will be able to launch into service sooner than with a shared path because they will be sent to a more suitable insertion orbit, the company says, adding “a few months” of extra life on top of their improvement. provide the propulsion systems.

Gedmark said the company intends to “move to dedicated launches from now on” for all future satellites to better control schedules and orbital parameters.

“It could come from the larger classes of rockets for the launch of many Astranis satellites in a cluster or batch,” he said.

“Or it could be dedicated launches with one of the smaller launchers when those are online, in cases where we want to launch a satellite or two together.”

He said he is confident that launch companies will be able to ramp up rocket production to meet the demand expected by Astranis and other satellite startups.

About Raymond A. Bentley

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