Lemur Nanosatellite Constellation of Spire Global
The Lemur-2 nanosatellites are part of of a remote sensing commercial satellite constellation of Spire Global Inc., San Francisco, CA, that provides global ship tracking and weather monitoring. The satellites in this investigation are deployed from both the ISS (International Space Station) and the visiting space vehicle, demonstrating the technology at a range of altitude bands. 1) 2)
Some background: Spire Global, Inc.,previously called Nanosatisfi, is an American private company specializing in data gathered from a network of small satellites. Spire Global was founded in 2012 and opened offices in San Francisco. The company later opened offices in Glasgow (UK), Singapore, and in Boulder, CO. The company was founded to create Ardusat, a crowd-funded satellite, which was launched on August 3, 2013. 3) 4)
The company was founded to create ArduSat, a crowd-funded satellite, which was launched on August 3, 2013. The company's first three Ardusat satellites were named after a portmanteau of Arduino, the technology on which they were based, and satellite. In August 2014, it was announced that Ardusat was spun out of Spire and would focus on educational technology.
Spire Global inaugurated the Lemur project in 2014 with the launch of the Lemur-1 prototype satellite atop a Soyuz Rocket. The primary purpose for that mission was to demonstrate the satellite platform and support systems, not the operational payloads. In place of the meteorological & ship-tracking equipment, Lemur-1 featured a pair of Earth-observation payloads, a medium-resolution color camera and a low-resolution infrared imaging system.
Lemur-2 was inaugurated in 2015 with the launch of four satellites atop an Indian PSLV launcher, introducing the STRATOS and SENSE instruments. Over the course of the program, Spire Global plans to implement incremental improvements of the satellites and add more sensors. The next generation of Lemurs, debuting around 2018, will feature an ADS-B terminal for tracking of aircraft on a global scale.
• March 6, 2017: Ball Aerospace and Spire Global, Inc. are collaborating on a program on behalf of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to improve MDA (Maritime Domain Awareness) in the Arctic. Together, Ball and Spire are developing a data collection and analysis platform that monitors maritime traffic in the Arctic, which will enable improved awareness of vessel activity and behaviors. 5)
- "Ball and Spire's collaboration demonstrates our abilities to seamlessly deliver to NGA relevant and actionable information critical to security, safety, the economy and the environment," said Debra Facktor Lepore, Ball Aerospace's vice president and general manager, strategic operations and commercial aerospace business unit. "For more than 30 years, Ball has delivered data analysis software and systems expertise to the United States Government, and the synergies with Spire will result in commercial solutions that continue to drive maximum effectiveness and affordability for our customers."
- In association with NGA, Ball and Spire will leverage two existing commercial capabilities to create accurate, near real-time pictures of maritime activity in the Arctic. Spire's constellation of nanosatellites capture Automatic Identification System (AIS) vessel tracking data over the most remote parts of the globe. The AIS data is then ingested into Ball's cloud-based data analytics architecture and fused with other commercial Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) data to yield detailed profiles of vessel activity and establish benchmarks in vessel behavior.
- "This project will provide extraordinary insight into vessel traffic in the Arctic. Due to the remote nature of that region, Spire's nanosatellites are an excellent way of generating Arctic maritime data with both fast revisit time and low latency," said Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire. "Through the combination of our commercial nanosatellite constellation and Ball's extensive experience in data exploitation and analytics, we expect to provide NGA with substantial improvements in Maritime Domain Awareness."
- NGA ensures safety of navigation in the air and on the seas by maintaining the most current information and highest quality services for U.S. military forces and global transport networks. With ship traffic through Arctic routes projected to grow 250 percent by 2025 due to melting polar ice, the collaboration between Ball and Spire addresses a critical gap in monitoring maritime vessel patterns.
Figure 1: Lemur satellites in the Clean Room (image credit: Spire Global)
The CubeSats in this investigation are built by Spire, a small satellite communications company dedicated to expanding data collection from space. Spire's many small satellites provide near-real-time information from anywhere on Earth, enabling more accurate weather forecasts, shipping data and other information. By launching from the ISS, Spire can deploy several small satellites at once, lowering cost and improving access to space. Each Lemur-2 nanosatellite has a mass of ~ 4.6 kg.
The Lemur-2 satellites carry two payloads: STRATOS GPS radio occultation meteorology payload and the SENSE AIS payload for ship tracking.
Better data on where ships are located benefits consumers and private industry. Improved ocean monitoring enables shipping companies to plan more efficiently; allows insurance companies to understand risks and fault; and assists coast guards in policing territorial waters and preventing piracy and illegal fishing. The satellites in NanoRacks-LEMUR-2 also dramatically increase the amount of raw weather data available for forecasts, improving weather prediction around the globe.
NanoRacks CubeSats are delivered to the ISS already integrated within a NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer). A crew member transfers each NRCSD from the launch vehicle to the JEM/Kibo (Japanese Experiment Module). Visual inspection for damage to each NRCSD is performed. When CubeSat deployment operations begin, the NRCSDs are unpacked, mounted on the JAXA MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform) and placed on the JEM/Kibo airlock slide table for transfer outside the ISS. A crew member operates the JRMS (JEM Remote Manipulating System) – to grapple and position for deployment. CubeSats are deployed when JAXA ground controllers command a specific NRCSD. 11)
Figure 2: A NanoRacks-LEMUR-2 3U CubeSat is being loaded into the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (image credit: Spire Global)
ISS orbit: Near-circular orbit, altitude of ~400 km, inclination = 51.6º, period ~ 92 minutes.
Figure 3: Artist's rendition of a deployed Lemur-2 nanosatellite (image credit: Spire Global)
Contracts from NOAA for commercial data purchase:
• In September 2016, NOAA made its first two awards under the Commercial Weather Data Pilot program created by Congress last year. The winners are Spire Global of San Francisco with the Lemur constellation and GeoOptics of Pasadena, CA with the CICERO constellation, both of which will provide radio occultation data to NOAA for evaluation to determine whether commercial data can be incorporated into NOAA's numerical weather models. 12) 13)
- Congress provided $3 million to NOAA in the FY2016 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations act (Division B of the FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act) for the pilot program. It required NOAA to enter into at least one pilot project through an open competitive process to purchase, evaluate and calibrate commercial weather data and to submit a report on how it would implement the project. NOAA publicly released that report in April.
- The idea originated in the House-passed Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act (H.R. 1561) sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK). Bridenstine chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee and also serves on the House Armed Services Committee. He led efforts to include a provision in the pending FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act for DOD to create a similar program.
- Under the contracts, the two companies will provide GNSS radio occultation data to NOAA by April 30, 2017 to demonstrate data quality and potential value to NOAA's weather forecasts and warnings. NOAA/NESDIS (National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service) will assess the data through the end of FY2017 and issue a report in early FY2018. The contract award amounts were $370,000 for Spire and $695,000 for GeoOptics.
- NOAA already uses GPS radio occultation (GPO-RO) data in its forecasts. The data are acquired by the six-satellite Formosat/COSMIC constellation, a joint program with Taiwan. NOAA is requesting funds for a COSMIC-2 follow-on.
• Prior to the NOAA contract, Spire already built commercial demand for its services from other customers. In addition to other weather agencies, Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire Global, said there are multiple markets beyond just government that have an interest in limiting the economic impact of extreme weather events by using space-based observations. 14)
- "Our customers are organizations that are highly knowledgeable in the weather space that have the capability to run numerical weather prediction models, and hence have the skill to consume GPS-RO data. There are significantly more private organizations and nongovernmental organizations that actually have this capability than we were aware of," said Platzer.
- Spire presented the world's first commercially collected and processed GPS-RO profiles this year at the IROWG (International Radio Occultation Working Group) conference. Platzer said the company was able to demonstrate that a commercial company could collect GPS-RO profiles and perform the necessary processing to convert them to atmospheric profiles. While highlighting that this feat was something many doubted could be done commercially, Platzer quickly adds that Spire relied heavily on government-supported research from NOAA, NASA, the Alfred Wegener Institute, the DLR, and others.
• While GeoOptics and Spire Global were awarded this first contract by NOAA, another company, PlanetiQ of Boulder, CO, also has plans to launch weather satellites in early 2018.
Sensor complement (STRATOS, SENSE)
STRATOS makes use of GPS occultation measurements to determine temperature, pressure and humidity profiles of Earth's atmosphere for application in operational meteorology. The instrument consists of GPS receivers to track the signals of several MEO satellites and measure the time delay and bend angle of signals that travel through the atmosphere located in the line of sight of the two spacecraft. These phase delay measurements due to refraction by the atmosphere can be made from the satellite altitude to very close to the surface leading to precise information on the properties of the atmosphere at an accurate vertical resolution.
Figure 4: Sample data of the STRATOS instrument (image credit: Spire Global)
SENSE: Each Lemur is also equipped with SENSETM, a receiver for AIS (Automatic Identification System) signal reception from ships at sea, providing worldwide tracking for maritime safety. AIS is used by sea vessels that send and receive VHF messages containing identification, position, course and speed information to allow the monitoring of vessel movements and collision avoidance as well as alerting in the event of sudden speed changes.
Spire announced a second generation series of nanosatellites to be launched from 2018 onwards, which will also feature ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) payloads to track airplanes.
1) "Spire Unveils Satellite To Make Weather As Predictable to Navigate As Google Maps," Spire, Jan. 29, 2015, URL: https://spire.com/company/insights/news/spire-unveils-first-ever-shoebox-sized-satellite-m/
3) "Spire Global," Wikipedia, URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spire_Global#cite_note-GunterAS1X-7
5) "Ball Aerospace and Spire Global Collaborate on Arctic Maritime Domain Awareness," Spire Global, March 6, 2017, URL: https://spire.com/company/insights/news/spire-providing-data-nga-effort-maritime-domain-aw/
6) "Spire Global," URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spire_Global#cite_note-Spire-4
8) "NanoRacks Completes Historic Above Space Station Cygnus CubeSat Deployment," NanoRacks, Nov. 28, 2016, URL: http://nanoracks.com/historic-above-space-station-cygnus-cubesat-deployment/
9) Stephen Clark, "40th flight of India's PSLV declared a success," Spaceflight Now, June 23, 2017, URL: https://spaceflightnow.com/2017/06/23/40th-flight-of-indias-pslv-declared-a-success/
10) Stephen Clark, "Soyuz rocket lifts off with 73 satellites," Spaceflight Now, July 14, 2017, URL: https://spaceflightnow.com/2017/07/14/soyuz-rideshare-launch/
11) "NanoRacks-LEMUR-2 (NanoRacks-LEMUR-2)," NASA, 24 May 2017, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2349.html
12) Marcia S. Smith,"Spire, GeoOptics Win First NOAA Commercial Weather Data Contracts," SpacePolicyOnline.com, Sept. 16, 2016, URL: http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/news/spire-geooptics-win-first-noaa-commercial-weather-data-contracts
13) Jason Samenow, "NOAA awards first-ever satellite data contracts to private industry," Washington Post, Sept. 16, 2016, URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2016/09/16/noaa-awards-first-ever-satellite-data-contracts-to-private-industry/?utm_term=.f20614578f48
14) Caleb Henry, "Spire CEO: We are Launching Satellites Every Month," Satellite Today, October 26, 2016, URL: http://www.satellitetoday.com/nextspace/2016/10/26/spire-ceo-launching-satellites-every-month/
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).