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Nov 24, 2016

Historic maneuver: Cygnus boosts altitude after ISS undocking for deployment of Spire satellites

San Francisco, Calif - [November 25th, 2016] – Cygnus CRS OA-5, which arrived at the International Space Station on October 23rd, has undocked from the ISS and boosted its altitude to about 500km before releasing four Spire satellites into orbit via the NanoRacks External CubeSat deployer. The mission, which has been approved by NASA, is the first of its kind to deploy satellites into a higher orbit after departing from the ISS. 

The altitude boost provided by Cygnus to approximately 500km increases the on-orbit lifespan of the Spire’s LEMUR-2 satellites from about 9 months in a typical ISS deployment to at least 2 years. That amount of time is just inside a CubeSat “goldilocks” zone where their long-term usefulness and orbital life are in near-equilibrium.  Spire, NanoRacks, NASA and Orbital worked closely to make this unique opportunity a reality and it highlights yet another commercial application of the ISS that is beneficial to the satellite industry.  Spire is incredibly pleased to have been a part of this historic joint effort between industry and government.

This deployment brings the company’s launch total to 21 satellites – 16 of which are currently in orbit providing data for Spire’s ship tracking and weather data clients. With this deployment and the recent loss of another ORBCOMM OG2 satellite, announced during their most recent earnings call, Spire now has the largest constellation of ship tracking satellites in the world.

An orbit boost after an ISS supply mission has been a goal of many people at NanoRacks, Orbital, and Spire.  Jenny Barna, Spire’s Launch Manager and former propulsion engineer at Orbital, realized there was potential for an expanded mission the moment that Orbital announced the decision to launch a Cygnus resupply mission with ULA, and began to seek an opportunity, reaching out to former colleagues and industry partners. “Initially, the extra performance of the Atlas-5 was what got my attention; my hope was for a traditional secondary payload approach, where satellites could be dropped off in a higher, mid-inclination orbit after Cygnus was released,” explained Barna.  “What emerged instead leveraged the performance of the Cygnus spacecraft itself as well as NanoRacks’ proven deployment capability. It’s truly an innovative mission profile and we’re honored to ride with Cygnus to space, “explained Barna. "The effort that NanoRacks, Orbital and NASA have put forth to make this a reality is a testament to the brilliance of public-private partnerships."

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