For big missions, think small (satellites)
by Janie Yurechko -
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For big missions, think small (satellites)

Find out why forward thinkers trust nanosatellites to run demanding data collection missions.

All three winners of the MagQuest challenge leveraged nanosatellites, demonstrating that experts trust the technology for science-grade missions. Organizations and governments looking to take operations into space can access this powerful and reliable technology through orbital services. The services are reliable, scalable, and secure.

Nanosatellites sweep the MagQuest challenge

In March 2019, the United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) launched the MagQuest competition, inviting innovators to submit new ideas for collecting geomagnetic data for the World Magnetic Model (WMM). Entries could take any approach so long as they improved the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of data collection. When NGA announced the winners a little over a year later, all three entries shared one essential feature: nanosatellites.

The competition’s results demonstrate just how far nanosatellites have come from their early days in the 1990s as university teaching and research tools. Today, the competition’s judges and winners—including Spire Global and SBQuantum’s joint team—all trusted the compact devices to handle the demands of a science-grade mission with far-reaching national security implications.

The WMM is a representation of the Earth’s magnetic field. It’s used in essential public and military systems, including mobile navigation applications, surveying tools, antennas, solar panels, and even GPS. The model provides a key complement to GPS through magnetic navigation, which is critical since adverse space weather and ionospheric conditions can disrupt GPS signals.

With so many vital technologies relying on the model, accurate and reliable data collection is paramount. The model currently uses data collected by the European Space Agency Swarm mission, which was launched in 2013 and is expected to conclude in 2021.

For the sake of sustainability, the NGA is using the MagQuest challenges to analyze data collection alternatives for the future. If the nanosatellites prevail, then the 30-centimeter-long, 10 -kilogram devices will provide the same level of service as the Swarm mission’s roughly 9-meter-long, 500-kilogram satellites.

While NGA looks ahead, reliable nanosatellite infrastructure is accessible to governments and businesses now through a range of orbital services from hosted payloads and space platforms as a service, to fully tailored and purpose-built satellites and their operations. With these services, clients can fit sensing devices into commercial nanosatellites and run demanding data collection operations from space.

Working together works better

Spire is proud to have partnered with SBQuantum in the MagQuest challenge, submitting a joint entry that tied for second place. Working together demonstrated one of the primary benefits of orbital services: collaboration.

The two organizations combined their specialties, each contributing a critical component of the solution. SBQuantum brought industry-leading expertise in magnetometers, creating a novel sensor that exploits the “quantum properties of atomic impurities in synthetic diamonds,” said David Roy-Guay, the company’s CEO.

Spire contributed satellite operations and space systems engineering expertise to the partnership. First, we created a special 6U bus—six times the size of the standard 10-centimeter cube and twice the size of a standard Spire 3U satellite—to accommodate the magnetometer’s long boom. Next, all the critical satellite components were tested in SBQuantum’s Canadian lab to ensure that the system was suitable for highly accurate magnetic field measurements.

Finally, we combined the satellite systems with our global ground station network and cloud-based storage and computing infrastructure to bring data down from orbit, process the measurements, and provide access to end-users through easy-to-use APIs.

“It was clear that our two teams would make solid partners for MagQuest,” said Roy-Guay. “We combine extended Concept of Operations expertise and a highly innovative approach to providing high-accuracy data, as required to produce the WMM.”

Bringing together both companies’ expertise provided NGA a reliable and secure solution with the promise of rapid scalability. These three core benefits are offered to every client through Spire’s orbital services solution.

Ready today and always reliable

By hosting your payload on a proven platform, you can focus more time and resources on developing your device instead of worrying about the satellite’s infrastructure. Spire has spent the last eight years building, testing, and honing our nanosatellites. We’ve built over 100 satellites in our vertically integrated facilities and operate 104 in orbit today. Collectively, our satellites have logged over 260 years of space flight heritage, proving to be the perfect platform for many objectives. We collect maritime and aviation data, weather variables, and even Earth information. We’re ready to add your mission to the list.

Scale up, and up, and up

We learned how to scale up operations by expanding our constellation to include over 100 satellites. Testing and development are fast on Spire’s nanosatellites. Some can be built in just ten days, cutting down the overall time and cost to launch your payload. And by partnering with multiple launch partners, we offer clients more opportunities to get their devices into space.

Spire nanosatellites in production

Once in orbit, we continually update our flight software to increase performance and add capabilities. Our automated constellation operations and cloud-managed data processing further optimize performance and efficiency. Together, this ensures customers can enjoy regular productivity boosts without the cost of buying, building, or launching new hardware. And our network of more than 30 ground stations around the world ensures frequent contact with payloads for data retrieval and any updates you might have.

Security above all else

Data security is essential for almost every aspect of government missions and company operations today. That’s why we offer end-to-end data encryption. It assures data pipeline security, from space to your data interface. And since we design and build our satellites in-house, we also manage a secure payload integration process.

We are excited about the outcome of the MagQuest challenge and the future nanosatellites will play in supporting the critical mission of geomagnetic data collection. One thing the competition has made clear today, however, is that nanosatellite platforms pack the performance to take on your ambitious missions.

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