Helios Wire and exactEarth Small Satellites Set for Launch on SmallSat Express

Artist rendering of a Helios Wire Pathfinder satellite. Credit: Helios Wire.

Helios Wire and exactEarth will each have a small satellite launched on the upcoming SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of the Spaceflight SSO-A rideshare mission scheduled for no earlier than Nov. 27.

That mission, dubbed the “SmallSat Express” by Seattle based Spaceflight Industries, will see 64 satellites launch from 34 organizations and 17 countries. The mission has been delayed frequently and does not have the originally hoped for 70-100 small satellites onboard. However, it is the first dedicated rideshare for smallsats on a U.S. based launch vehicle. Spaceflight has launched more than 140 satellites for customers to date on a variety of global launch providers.


SmallSat Express infographic
SmallSat Express infographic. Credit: Spaceflight Industries.


Helio Wire Pathfinder II

Vancouver based Helios Wire plans to build a constellation of 28 machine-to-machine (M2M) small satellite serving the Internet of Things connectivity market. The company announced in mid-2017 that it had raised $4M. Beyond that announcement we know little about how much funding the private company has raised to date.

Last November the first Helios Wire satellite, Pathfinder I, was lost when a Russian rocket carrying several satellites failed to make it to orbit.

Pathfinder II, a 20kg 16U satellite built by Astro Digital, is one of the 64 satellites on the Spaceflight Industries SmallSat Express mission.

According to Helios Wire their constellation is a “two-way global system (that) will provide ultra-low-cost, short-burst data services — connecting up to 5 billion sensors using priority mobile satellite system (MSS) S-band spectrum. The Helios system is designed for new and existing applications that monitor or control fixed and mobile assets. Those assets can be found across a broad array of applications related to transportation, supply chains, logistics, security/public safety, energy, industrial construction, agriculture, animal management, among other industries. Helios will blend its space-based connectivity infrastructure with traditional terrestrial networks by combining the datasets, allowing for data analytics and actionable insights.”

In an interview with Space News, CEO Scott Larson said they can start booking revenue with just the one satellite in orbit. This in part through a deal with Sirion Global Ltd. of Australia where they “acquired 30 MHz of priority mobile satellite system S-band spectrum.”

Larson said “Spectrum is the asset. If you don’t have that, you spend all your time trying to coordinate landing rights with various countries spread out all over the world, and those discussions aren’t for the faint of heart.”

Leading up to the launch Larson said “this is undoubtedly an exciting leap forward for us and a foundational component of our future constellation. We expect it will shake up the way people think about IoT connectivity, in terms of application types that can be layered on top of the network, specifically analytics and blockchain. The IoT industry is very much in a growth phase. For Helios, the goal isn’t only to connect devices and aggregate data, it’s also to improve the applications and services that can be layered atop the network. The ability to allow for not only machine-to-machine communication, but also machine-to-machine transactions using the blockchain, is very intriguing. It is the economy of machines and the service offering will add very real value.”

The company plans to have its 28 satellite constellation completed within the next five years.

exactEarth Vesta satellite

VESTA satellite
VESTA satellite. Credit: SSTL.

The 3U (4kg) VESTA satellite is technology demonstration mission that will test a “new two-way VHF data exchange system (VDES) payload for the exactEarth advanced maritime satellite constellation” according to builder Surrey Satellite Technology, LTD (SSTL). The satellite uses the SSTL-12 Nano platform.

While Honeywell is the customer, the project is funded by a grant funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and which Honeywell matched. As well, there are several technology partners including exactEarth (Europe), Pole Star, TeamSurv, Satellite Applications Catapult, and the General Lighthouse Authority (GLA).

The project is managed by managed by the U.K. Centre for EO Instrumentation and Space Technology (CEOI-ST).

According to a paper in the CEAS Space Journal, VHF Data Exchange System “is currently on its way to become an ITU standard supported by International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities. VDES includes the already existing collision avoidance tracking system Automatic Identification System and the messaging system Application Specific Messages. Additionally, a new third component for digital maritime communications of any kind, named VHF Data Exchange is included. On the one hand, there is a traditional terrestrial component, on the other hand, a satellite communication link is also envisioned partly by the same spectrum usage.”

Should the technology demonstration be successful it could beneficial for exactEarth in the near future.

NORsat-2, a microsatellite built for Norway by Toronto’s Space Flight Laboratory, included a large Yagi antenna designed to be used with what is believed to be the first-of-its-kind VHF Data Exchange (VDE) communication from space in 2017.

Once a date and time have been confirmed for the SmallSat Express launch, we’ll post an update and will broadcast the launch live.

SmallSat Express Integrated Payload Stack Animation

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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