Satellite Technology Feature Article
Cosmogia Quietly Puts up Two Earth-imaging Smallsats
By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor
The Orbital Antares test launch on April 21, 2013 carried Cosmogia's Dove-1 satellite, a 3U cubesat to collect Earth imagery, into orbit as a secondary payload. But the company orbited its Dove-2 cubesat on April 19, 2013 on a rideshare opportunity on a Soyuz-2.1a launch. Both missiles would have slipped under the radar if it wasn't press releases issued by secondary payload broker Spaceflight Services. So, what's Cosmogia up to?
A visit to cosmogia.com gives you nothing other than a logo. The company has filed license documents with the National Oceanic (News - Alert) and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to fly four Earth imaging satellites -- Dove 1 through 4 -- for experimental missions. Dove-1 is currently in a 250 kilometer orbit at 51.6 degrees, the same inclination as the International Space Station. Dove-2 was deployed from the BionM spacecraft on April 21 in an orbit of 290 kilometers by 575 kilometers at an inclination of 64.9 degrees -- the same day its brother Dove-1 was put into orbit on Antares .
Both Dove 1 and 2 are "short-duration" missions; Dove-1 will re-enter Earth's atmosphere within two weeks after launch while Dove-2 is expected to stay in orbit anywhere from six months to two years.
A FCC (News - Alert) filing statement for Dove-1 describes the spacecraft as being based on the 3U cubasat form factor, with dimensions of 100 mm by 100 mm by 340 mm and massing around 6 kilograms. The spacecraft has a telescope and camera, an S-band radio and antenna, COTS lithium-ion batteries recharged by solar cells and three air-core coil magnettorquers to provide attitude control and pointing.
A bit more information is provided in Dove-2's FCC orbital debris filing. It has four 100 mm x 300 solar arrays, deployed by springs in a "dart" configuration, and includes a gravity gradient boom for passive stabilization of the satellite. The communications subsystem includes an S-band radio for two way communication, an X-band radio for downlinking, and an Iridium (News - Alert) modem -- yes, one commercial satellite using another commercial satellite network, how cool is that? -- for telemetry and commanding.
Dove-3 will operate in an 800 kilometer by 597 kilometer orbit at an inclination of 97.8 degrees while Dove-4 will be at the same inclination but at a circular orbit of 700 kilometers. Both missions will be "experimental."
Who is Cosmogia? A New Space Journal piece says the company received $10.1 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) in December 2012 and lists a Carnegie Mellon University career fair description for the company: "We're developing systems to provide universal access to information about the changing Earth, its environment, and its people. We are a team of aerospace engineers, computer scientists, physicists, economists and analysts that develop and utilize aerospace technology and computer science for applications that range from deforestation monitoring to land use to food security."
Other than that, the FCC documents list company officials and Cosmogia's address in Sunnyvale, California; call it Silicon Valley, which would make them neighbors with imaging startup Skybox Imaging.
Cosmogia bears watching -- when you can find information about it. They've already got two cubesats on orbit today, now -- that's more than you can say for higher-profile asteroid miners Planetary Resources or the lower profile Skybox Imaging. It has $10.1 million from DFJ and most clearly other unannounced amounts from other investors, which is more than Powerpoint-heavy Deep Space Industries (DSI) can claim; Skybox has around $91 million at last reports, but it has been much more open with its investor information and business model.
Edited by Rich Steeves