Lemur-2 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.
• September 2017: Spire Global's LEMUR-2 constellation. Spire Global is in the process of deploying a 175-satellite constellation in the 400-600km altitude range comprised of 3U CubeSats. 6)
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. 16)
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. 17) 18)
- 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. 19)
- "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.
• October 04, 2018: NASA has launched a pilot program to evaluate how Earth science data from commercial small-satellite constellations could supplement observations from the agency's fleet of orbiting Earth science missions. On 28 September, the agency awarded sole-source contracts to acquire test data sets from three private sector organizations. 20)
- NASA's Earth Science Division in Washington issued blanket purchase agreements for the "Private Sector Small Constellation Satellite Data Product Pilot" program. Under these agreements, the agency purchases data sets and related products based on observations derived from Earth-orbiting, small-satellite constellations designed and operated by non-governmental entities.
- "This pilot program is an innovative and efficient way for us to acquire, examine, and evaluate a wide range of private sector Earth observation data," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division. "As our very capable NASA research satellite fleet ages and more small satellites are launched by private industry, there are opportunities to leverage the strengths of each into even more complete climate data sets."
- NASA will provide the test data products to NASA-funded researchers, who will examine whether the data help advance the agency's science and applications development goals. The pilot program is designed to determine whether these private sector observations and associated products offer a cost-effective means to augment or complement the suite of Earth observations acquired directly by NASA, other U.S. government agencies, and international partners.
- The contracts were awarded to:
1) DigitalGlobe, a Maxar Technologies company headquartered in Westminster, Colorado, has five very high-resolution Earth imaging satellites (GeoEye-1, WorldView-1, WorldView-2, WorldView-3, WorldView-4) capable of collecting 30 cm resolution imagery.
2) Planet, headquartered in San Francisco, has three satellite constellations (SkySat, Dove, RapidEye) with more than 150 satellites supplying imagery and derived products over the entire Earth at medium and high resolution with high repeat frequencies.
3) SPIRE Global, headquartered in San Francisco, operates a constellation of over 60 Lemur 3U CubeSats collecting radio occultation soundings, aircraft location information and ship reports. GPS radio occultation measurements can be used to sound the atmosphere for temperature, water vapor, and atmospheric pressure.
- These contracts represent the first time that NASA has engaged with commercial small-satellite constellation operators to purchase their data for scientific evaluation. They establish a way for NASA to acquire and examine the data products during the next 12 months. Each contract includes an option for NASA to extend the agreement for an additional four years, for a total value of up to $7 million for each of the three agreements.
- To be considered for participation in this pilot program, companies had to demonstrate they were currently operating a small satellite constellation of no fewer than three satellites in non-geostationary orbit and producing consistent global coverage. Companies also were asked to supply a comprehensive catalog of their data, describing areal coverage, data latency, pricing, and other factors.
- NASA uses the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. The agency's observations of Earth's complex natural environment are critical to understanding how our planet's natural resources and climate are changing now and could change in the future.
• January 10, 2018: Spire Global, the San Francisco-based company that operates 48 GPS radio occultation CubeSats, could provide a persistent view of about 97 percent of Earth with a constellation of 150 satellites, said Alexander "Sandy" MacDonald, Spire's global validation model director. 21)
- "It would be like a global GEO satellite and there are huge implications of that," MacDonald, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, said Jan. 9 at the American Meteorological Society meeting here. 22)
- Spire is not alone in seeing the value of GPS radio occultation. NOAA and Taiwan's Ministry of Science and Technology are preparing to launch six Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC) 2A satellites this year on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. GeoOptics of Pasadena, California, is another startup working to establish a constellation of GPS radio occultation satellites.
- A constellation of 100 to 200 radio occultation satellites, which provide detailed observations of atmospheric temperature and moisture, could be used in conjunction with geostationary weather satellites like NOAA's GOES-16 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-16) to dramatically improve the accuracy and spatial resolution of global weather prediction models, MacDonald said.
- Spire is building one satellite per week in its factory in Scotland, but could produce its three-unit cubesats more quickly. "I think we could turn them out at two or three or five per week," MacDonald said.
- Spire also is expanding its ground network. The company has 27 ground stations operating and is pushing to increase that number to 50 because the added ground stations will allow the firm to provide customers with data no more than 30 minutes old, MacDonald said.
- In addition to using its spacecraft for meteorology, Spire's cubesats carry Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) payloads for aircraft tracking and Automatic Identification System (AIS) payloads for maritime tracking. "We collect about 10 million ship reports a day," MacDonald said.
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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) Jonathan Rosenblatt, Darren Garber, Darren McKnight, "Examination of Constellation Deployments Relative to Debris Mitigation in Low Earth Orbit," Proceedings of the 68th IAC (International Astronautical Congress), Adelaide, Australia, 25-29 Sept. 2017, paper: IAC-17-A6,10-B4.10,3
7) "Spire Global," URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spire_Global#cite_note-Spire-4
9) "NanoRacks Completes Historic Above Space Station Cygnus CubeSat Deployment," NanoRacks, Nov. 28, 2016, URL: http://nanoracks.com/historic-above-space-station-cygnus-cubesat-deployment/
10) 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/
11) Stephen Clark, "Soyuz rocket lifts off with 73 satellites," Spaceflight Now, July 14, 2017, URL: https://spaceflightnow.com/2017/07/14/soyuz-rideshare-launch/
12) "PSLV Successfully Launches 31 Satellites in a Single Flight," ISRO, 12 Jan. 2018, URL: https://www.isro.gov.in/update/12-jan-2018/pslv-successfully-launches-31-satellites-single-flight
14) Stephen Clark, "Cygnus cargo ship released from space station, heads for extended mission," Spaceflight Now, 15 July 2018, URL: https://spaceflightnow.com/2018/07/15/cygnus-cargo-ship-released-from-space-station-heads-for-extended-mission/
15) Stephen Clark, "Soyuz launches cluster of 28 satellites," Spaceflight Now, 27 December 2018, URL: https://spaceflightnow.com/2018/12/27/soyuz-28-satellite-cluster-launch/
16) "NanoRacks-LEMUR-2 (NanoRacks-LEMUR-2)," NASA, 24 May 2017, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2349.html
17) 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
18) 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
19) 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/
20) Steve Cole, "NASA Evaluates Commercial Small-Sat Earth Data for Science," NASA Release 18-086, 04 October 2018, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-evaluates-commercial-small-sat-earth-data-for-science
21) Debra Werner, "Spire Global is expanding cubesat constellation to offer persistent global view," Space News, 10 Jan. 2018, URL: http://spacenews.com/spire-global-is-expanding-cubesat-constellation-to-offer-persistent-global-view/
22) AMS (American Meteorological Society) 98th Annual Meeting, Austin, Texas, USA, 7-11 January 2018, URL: https://ams.confex.com/ams/98Annual/meetingapp.cgi
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).