Austin space tech firm CesiumAstro sends its first satellite to orbit

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The company’s technology hitched a ride Monday as a secondary payload on an Atlas V rocket that delivered NASA’s Landsat 9 to orbit after launching from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. The mission had previously been delayed due to a liquid oxygen shortage and was further pushed back due to high winds. 

Active-phased array technology electronically steers radio wave beams that are used to communicate and transfer data to target destinations. 

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Story Highlights

  • CesiumAstro, which was founded in 2017, builds communication technology for space and airborne platforms. Its hardware and software products are designed to be used for a range of commercial and satellite communication needs. 

  • Now in orbit, the proprietary hardware and software will allow CesiumAstro and its customers to run experiments on electronically steerable, multibeam active-phased array technology. The two-satellite system will sit in low-Earth orbit and allow the company to perform commercial and defense experiments through 2026.

CesiumAstro CEO Shey Sabripour, an aerospace industry veteran, said he has watched dozens of launches, but Monday’s was particularly meaningful. The successful launch was the culmination of years of work, starting with a pen drawing he made in January 2017. 

Sabripour watched a livestream of the launch at the company’s Bee Cave headquarters, accompanied by the company’s staff. Sabripour said the launch was the most exhilarating to watch of his career. 

“It’s an exciting day,” Sabripour said, adding that it was made possible by hard work and innovation from everyone on the team. The mission, dubbed Cesium Mission 1, marks the first in a planned series of small satellite missions for the company. Technology for the first mission included two of the company’s 6U CubeSats, which include active phased array communication systems and inter-satellite links.

The technology will be used as a testbed site for CesiumAstro and its customers, which include NASA, the U.S Department of Defense,and the U.S Navy. The tests will range in length from seconds to years, according to the company. One of the company’s tests will include work in partnership with the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit, and will demonstrate a direct downlink to tactical ground terminals with lower latency, which decreases lags in communication. 

The communication systems are equipped with software-controlled systems, that CesiumAstro will be able to update and adjust as needed.    The technology has been primarily used in radar and other defense technology, but CesiumAsto aims to push its uses further in the telecommunications realm.  

“Through this new mission, CesiumAstro’s customers will directly benefit from the rich range of opportunities APA communication and sensing systems with a fully software-defined digital backend can provide,” Sabripour said. “As our team supplies critical defense and commercial sector customers, the breadth of our expanding product offerings is now on full display with our most recent shipments of flight-qualified hardware.” The company is also developing ground stations at its Texas and Colorado offices that will be able to communicate with future spacecraft. CesiumAstro also plans to launch another advanced satellite in the next year. 

The technology is designed to be faster, more efficient and be used in communications systems for satellites, unmanned autonomous vehicles, space-bound rockets and other vehicles. Customers for the mission were able to buy both standard and customizable products for satellite or airborne missions. More:Elon Musk says SpaceX still growing in Texas, plans rocket engine factory near Waco