Between now and the end of 2021 Canada may have more satellites launched than the combined previous 57 years going back to 1962 and the launch of Canada’s first satellite, Alouette 1.
It’s been building for well over a decade, but the small satellite revolution will see Canada join the ranks this year of countries that are launching double digit small satellites.
Last year Canada had three government owned satellites launched, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission with RCM-1, RCM-2, and RCM-3. These were medium class satellites weighing in at 1430 kg each launched into low Earth orbit.
Canadian companies on the other hand didn’t have a single satellite launched last year.
This year, it will likely be double digits, albeit all of them small satellites, or more precisely, micro-satellites (See chart).
SpaceQ is making a rough estimate, based on open source and company data, that there could be as many as 19 micro-satellites launched in 2020 for exactEarth, GHGSat and Kepler Communications. The combined mass of those 19 satellites is approximately 334 kg. exactEarth’s ESAIL mass is 110 kg, GHGSat’s satellites are 16 kg and Kepler’s are up to 12 kg.
What’s Canada launching in 2020?
As the chart below illustrates three companies have satellites launching this year, the majority of which are for Kepler Communications.
exactEarth is launching one satellite this year, ESAIL. ESAIL is an Automatic Identification System (AIS) satellite for maritime vessel ship tracking and maritime situational awareness solutions. The satellite is supported by the European Space Agency through ARTES program which itself is supported by the Canadian Space Agency.
The satellite was developed and built by a European manufacturing team led by the satellite prime contractor Luxspace.
The satellite is scheduled to launch no earlier than (NET) March 24 on an Arianespace Vega rocket, which is Arianespace’s Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) Proof of Concept (POC) flight (mission VV16).
GHGSat is launching two identical Space Flight Laboratory built global emissions monitoring micro-satellites this year, GHGSat-C1 (Iris) and GHGSat-C2 (Hugo).
Iris and Hugo have the following upgrades from its first satellite GHGSat-D (Claire);
- Improved stray light/ghosting mitigation.
- Addition of onboard calibration features.
- Improved radiation mitigation to protect the payload from solar and cosmic radiation.
- Optimized spectroscopy for primary instrument.
- Replacement of secondary instrument.
- Addition of experimental optical downlink “Darkstar”.
- Addition of a 4th reaction wheel for redundancy.
Iris is scheduled to launch no earlier than (NET) March 24 on an Arianespace Vega rocket while Hugo has no launch date as of yet. Stephane Germain, CEO of GHGSat recently told SpaceQ Hugo will launch this summer, but can’t reveal the launch service provider yet.
Part of Kepler’s legacy may include the fact that it was the first Canadian company to launch double digit satellites in one year, and 2020 could be that year.
The information we have is based on what Kepler has released and documents from Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.
Here’s what we know so far.
Kepler plans to launch a constellation of 140 micro-satellites satellites in low Earth orbit that provide global satellite data backhaul services for wideband and Internet of Things applications.
Kepler will launch its last demonstration satellite TARS very soon. The company will not reveal yet who is launching TARS. Based on the current launch calendar we can speculate that TARS may be launched on the Arianespace Vega scheduled for NET March 24 or possibly the SpaceX SmallSat Rideshare Mission 1 in March. Both of those launches will deliver satellites to sun synchronous orbit.
Kepler-4 and Kepler-5 (GEN 1)
Beyond their initial three demonstration satellites, KIPP, CASE and TARS, Kepler has not officially named their next satellites. The next batch of satellites they are building are known as GEN 1, or Generation 1. These will be the first fully operational satellites in their constellations.
This batch of 10-15 satellites include what we’re calling Kepler-4 and Kepler-5, and are being built by the Space Flight Laboratory.
Kepler-4 and Kepler-5 are scheduled to launch on a commercial Soyuz-2.1a rocket with GK Launch Services in Q3 of this year.
Kepler-6 and Kepler-18 (GEN 1)
The following includes factual information provided by Kepler and speculation on our part.
Kepler has contracted SpaceX for 400 kg of launch space. They have also booked space on two Falcon 9 launches this year, both of them on SmallSat Rideshare missions.
Kepler needs its satellites delivered to sun synchronous orbits (SSO). SpaceX has exactly two missions after March that are delivering satellites to SSO. They are SmallSat Rideshare 9 in October and SmallSat Rideshare 11 in December.
Based on the available mass and what they’ve contracted for, we can speculate that Kepler will launch somewhere between 30 and 40 satellites with SpaceX on this contract. We don’t have an exact mass for each satellite, but Kepler has stated they could be up to 12 kg.
Kepler also has previously stated that the expected number of GEN 1 satellites to be developed is between 10-15. If they build the full complement of 15 GEN 1 satellites, then after the known Soyuz launch of the first 2, there would be up to 13 more to be launched. If they split the remaining number this year on the SpaceX missions, then 6 could be launched in October and another 7 in December.
Last week Kepler publicly announced that its in-house satellite manufacturing facility is fully operational. It’s designed to mass manufacture all of its satellites. If they plan on launching 15 GEN 1 satellites this year they’ll have to manufacture 13 satellites in this facility this year. To have satellites ready for an October launch they’ll need to have the first batch ready by no later than the end of July. For the next batch, no later than the end of September. We don’t think that will be a problem, so we’re speculating that they should be able to manufacture and launch the full complement of 15 GEN 1 satellites this year.
Possible 50+ Launches in 2021
If you now think 2020 is going to be a big launch year for Canadian satellites, then 2021 could be huge.
Kepler may lead the way with up to 50 satellites launched as part of its GEN 2 group of satellites.
GHGSat is also going to be building another 10 satellites, some of which will be launched in 2021.
Another company looking to build a large satellite constellation is Telesat. They have an unspecified number of satellites they plan to launch in 2021.
The Canadian Space Agency will have the first batch of satellites from the university led Canadian CubeSat Project launched.
The Department of National Defence could have some micro-satellites launched including from Project Grey Jay.
Also on our radar are possible satellites being launched for NorthStar Earth and Space and Wyvern.