NorthStar uses Axelspace’s Earth-imaging satellites to monitor orbits

NorthStar uses Axelspace’s Earth-imaging satellites to monitor orbits

NorthStar uses Axelspace’s Earth-imaging satellites to monitor orbits

TAMPA, Fla. — Five Earth observation satellites from Japan Axelspace are helping NorthStar Earth and Space keep tabs on orbits ahead of the Canadian company’s proposed Space Situational Awareness (SSA) constellation.

An onboard software update has allowed the satellites to collect SSA data as they periodically travel across the dark side of the planet in low Earth orbit (LEO), the companies announced on Jan. 11.

During these dark times, when satellites aren’t needed for Axelspace’s imaging clients, their cameras can be pointed away from Earth to snap objects above them.

Each 100-kilogram GRUS satellite built by Axelspace for its AxelGlobe constellation is equipped with “powerful attitude control functionality to flexibly meet diverse imaging needs,” said Yuya Nakamura, CEO of Axelspace.

Satellites can collect data on LEO objects above their own operating altitude of 585 kilometers, NorthStar said, in addition to medium earth orbit (MEO) and geostationary orbit (GEO).

The companies did not provide further details on AxelGlobe’s ability to monitor near-Earth orbits, including the size of objects it can track and the frequency at which data can be collected.

According to NorthStar, companies did not need to seek regulatory approval to allow Axelspace to point its cameras up and down.

The satellites were designed to capture grayscale images of the Earth at a resolution of 2.5 meters, the minimum discernible distance between two separate objects on the ground. The onboard sensors can also capture color photographs of the Earth, including near-infrared, with a resolution of five meters.

Mitigation of potential delays

North Star recently raised $35 million for projects to deploy a constellation of 24 satellites for tracking objects as small as one centimeter in LEO, about seven centimeters in MEO and around 40 to 50 centimeters in GEO.

The first three satellites, built by Spire Global, were scheduled to launch in mid-2023 with Virgin Orbit.

However, Virgin Orbit suffered a launch failure on January 9, raising the prospect of delays for NorthStar. as investigators investigate an anomaly which prematurely shut down the upper stage of the rocket.

Combining AxelGlobe’s existing sensor data with NorthStar’s proprietary algorithms “is an extremely effective way to improve the quality of commercial SSA services available to operators,” said NorthStar CEO Stewart Bain.

NorthStar is “working with customers while evaluating” Axelspace’s SSA data, he added, as the company develops services ahead of the launch of its first satellites.

This data is integrated with SSA information from other partnerships, including a NorthStar announced in 2019 with ExoAnalytic Solutions, an American company using a network of ground-based telescopes to track satellites and space debris.

Command an EO spaceship

The repurposing of Earth imaging satellites to capture data in near-Earth orbits is not unheard of in the space industry.

High Earth Orbit Robotics, an Australian startup, compiles an in-orbit inspection gallery through partnerships with Earth observation operators.

NorthStar says its partnership with Axelspace is for SSA orbit determination rather than imagery for inspection purposes.

NorthStar does not process resolved images, the company added, and associates observed space objects with known identities using other measurements and characteristics than observed physical characteristics, such as their general shape.

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