WASHINGTON – Astra won a contract with NASA to launch a small constellation of Earth science cubesats, while General Atomics selected Rocket Lab to launch a small satellite with a NOAA-hosted payload.
NASA announced on February 26 that it awarded a $ 7.95 million contract to Astra for three launches of the company’s Rocket 3 vehicle, which will be used to implement time-resolved observations of the storm’s precipitation structure and intensity. with a constellation of small satellites (TROPICS) of the agency. mission.
The three launches will take place over a period of 120 days between January 8 and July 31, 2022, from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Those would be the first ground orbital launches from Kwajalein since Falcon 1 was last launched from Omelek Island there in 2009. Kwajalein has hosted several flights of the air-launched Pegasus rocket, the most recent in 2012.
TROPICS is a constellation of six 3U cubesats in three orbital planes with an inclination of 30 degrees and an altitude of 600 kilometers. Each identical satellite will carry a radiometer to collect profiles of temperature and water vapor as they pass over tropical climate systems. Scientists will use TROPICS to gain insight into the structure of tropical storms, and the constellation will allow frequent visits to study how those storms evolve.
The TROPICS contract is the second NASA award Astra has received. In December, the company was one of three small launch vehicle developers to be awarded Venture Class Launch Services contracts for cubesat launches. Astra’s prize, valued at $ 3.9 million, is for the exclusive launch of 30 kilograms of cubesats to an average tilt orbit of 500 kilometers, no later than June 2022.
General Atomics announced on February 24 that it selected Rocket Lab to launch an Orbital Test Bed satellite that it developed with hosted payload from the Argos-4 Advanced Data Collection System (A-DCS). NOAA organized the payload launch via the Hosted Payload Solutions contracted vehicle run by the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. The launch, on an Electron rocket, is scheduled for late 2021 or early 2022.
The A-DCS payload is part of the Argos data collection system that includes NOAA, the French space agency CNES, Eumetsat, and the Indian space agency ISRO. The payload receives data from sensors, ranging from those mounted on ocean buoys to wildlife trackers, and transmits that data to ground stations.
The contract is the second in as many weeks awarded by General Atomics for the launch of an Orbital Test Bed satellite. The company selected Firefly Aerospace on February 18 to launch a satellite that carries the hosted payload of the multi-angle imager for aerosols, a NASA Earth science instrument. That satellite will launch into polar orbit on an Alpha rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in 2022.