5 mins read 05 Jul 2021

Sixth Satellite In Orbit For Fleet Space

Fleet Space Technologies has successfully launched its sixth CubeSat as part of its Internet of Things network. The Centauri 4, however, is carrying world-first technology that will help improve the efficiency and productivity of the platform.

Another Australian CubeSat has reached Orbit last week, with the successful launch and deployment of Fleet Space Technologies sixth CubeSat into orbit, launched aboard the latest SpaceX Falcon 9 mission last week.

The Centauri 4 – Fleet’s most advanced payload to date – was designed and developed by the Adelaide-based satellite company and delivered into its targeted orbit altitude of 525 km. Whilst only the size of a shoebox, the CubeSat (also sometimes referred to as ‘nanosatellites’) has been integrated with digital beamforming technology – allowing it to transfer data in a more efficient and scalable method, increasing productivity. This is the first time this level of technology has been achieved in the CubeSat market globally.

“Space is no longer the sole domain of governments and multi-billion-dollar satellites. Space is open for business, and we're only just starting to tap into what is possible” Fleet Space CEO Flavia Tata Nardini. “With our digital beamforming technology, we are changing space and making it accessible.

“With a crowded radio spectrum containing all of the world’s wireless communications, bandwidth efficiency is everything. Our engineers have managed to fit this incredible technology in the vacuum of space on a tiny nanosat. This is where Fleet Space’s technology makes it world-first” Tata Nardinin said.

In true testament of the successful processes that Fleet Space Technologies has established, the company not only launched their CubeSat successfully into space on 1 July, but also within a few hours were able to track it on its first orbital pass, and switch on its payload – a procedure that would normally take weeks or even up to a month to achieve. This was aided with the assistance of Fleet's avionics partner Tyvak International. 

Beamforming ... But in Space

The beamforming antennas that form part of the Centauri 4 CubeSat. Credit: Fleet Space Technologies.

Components of the CubeSat undergoing testing at a specialised facility. Credit: Fleet Space Technologies.

When two waves superimpose on each other where the crest of both waves is equal in frequency, this results in the wave having higher amplitude (constructive interference), but the opposite applies when the crest of one wave meets the trough of another – leading to a cancellation effect of the wave, and reduction in amplitude (destructive interference).

Beamforming is the signal processing technique that is utilised in a variety of fields, including communications, radio astronomy, radar, seismology, acoustics (and more) that utilises this phenomenon. It applies both constructive and destructive interference of the signal from particular angles, for antennas that form part of a larger array to create directional beams that can be transmitted or received.

In radio astronomy, beamforming is used in large array telescopes – like the Murchison Wide-Field Array (and the future Square Kilometre Array) to help established directional location of where signals are coming from, or help ‘steer’ the telescopes beam even without any dishes or moving parts.

In wireless technology, this same technique allows the signal to be focused in a targeted direction through multiple antennas, with each broadcasting its output at slightly different times. This causes the overlapping waves to be constructive in some areas, thus increasing the wireless signal strength there, whilst destructive in other areas – basically, making that region useless to the wireless network.

The team from Fleet Space Technologies tracking the Centauri 4 in orbit. Credit: Fleet Space Technologies/Twitter.

Beamforming in space and aboard a CubeSat, however, is a whole different game.

CubeSats are only about the size of a loaf of bread, so all the instrumentation and power source has to fit inside this small capsule. This includes smaller battery size, reduced power outage, impacts from radiation in space (which can corrupt data), and the high degree of temperature swings, which in turn can affect synchronisation.

To get around this, Fleet Space repurposed the processing algorithm to ensure that it wasn’t to expensive in computational power requirements and developed a workaround to manage the battery depth to ensure the life of the asset can last as long as possible. Additionally, the team applies calibration to correct for temperature variations.

Fleet rocketing Ahead

Artist rendition of the Centauri 4 in orbit above Earth. Credit: Fleet Space Technologies.

Fleet Space Technologies is now well on its way to establishing its constellation of satellites in Low-Earth Orbit, and the successful launch and activation of Centauri 4 have now developed a baseline for the company to continue to build upon.

The network of CubeSats the company is orbiting is part of the Internet of Things (IoT) platform that Fleet has developed, linking remote sensors on Earth to the satellite network, allowing continuous monitoring of assets (such as resource pipelines and agricultural holdings) which incur both costs and risks to keep track of manually. The company plans to eventually have a constellation of 140 CubeSats in total by 2027 to support these services. From these, 50 will require replacements every year, as their Low Earth Orbit decays. 

Recently, Fleet Space Technologies signed an agreement with Australian launch company, Gilmour Space Technologies to launch six CubeSats into orbit by 2023. The company also was awarded a grant from the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Initiative to work with partners SA Power Networks and OZ Minerals to demonstrate the viability of their technology to be applied to Earth orbit and beyond.


Video Credit: Fleet Space Technologies.