Virgin Orbit’s scheduled launch of the “Straight Up” mission tonight includes the QUEYSSAT communications demonstration payload, a collaboration of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and the Canadian Department of National Defence (DOD).
There is little information available on the QUEYSSAT small satellite and there is no mention of Canada’s participation on any Canadian government website. In a 2020 press release announcing a launch contract with VOX Space, a Virgin Orbit subsidiary, the U.S. Space and Missile Systems Center said the “experiment will demonstrate and quantify the potential to improve Earth-satellite quantum channel uplinks via adaptive optics, expand quantum network concepts and exploit this capability for defense applications.” A source informs SpaceQ the DOD contribution includes a quantum key distribution demonstration.
The QUEYSSAT satellite and mission should not be confused with the Canadian Space Agency supported QEYSSat satellite which is now scheduled for launch no earlier than 2024.
The Straight Up mission is for the United States Space Force’s STP-S28A mission. Along with the QUEYSSAT payload there are also four other payloads for the Department of Defense Space Test Program and two from NASA’s ELaNA program. The other payloads are;
- Recurve – The Recurve satellite propels CubeSat technology forward by demonstrating adaptive radio frequency system capability from Low Earth Orbit, evaluating mesh network behavior across multiple nodes to route data wherever it needs to go.
- Slingshot 1 – This CubeSat will advance on-orbit experiments using modular & autonomous technologies on next-gen satellite systems with SatCat5, a data interface which implements Ethernet-type communication between payloads using low power serial communications.
- NACHOS-2 – NACHOS-2 will allow scientists to detect, map, and quantify Earth’s trace gasses more easily, which is critical for volcanology and climate change research.
- MISR-B – The MISR-B payload we’ll be taking to space includes 2 major sections––host satellite avionics & the payload bay. They’ll demonstrate two-way communications with ground devices and experiment with methods for the DOD to leverage SmallSat capabilities.
- NASA Langley GPX 2 – GPX2 will use commercial-off-the-shelf differential global positioning systems to demonstrate autonomous, close-proximity operations for small satellites in orbit, such as flying in formation or docking. If successful, this could help reduce costs and greatly simplify in-orbit operations.
- NASA supported University of Colorado at Boulder CTIM FD – The Compact Total Irradiance Monitor-Flight Demonstration (CTIM FD) will spend one year in orbit, measuring total solar irradiance (TSI) – data that describes the amount of incident solar radiation that reaches the Earth from the Sun. These levels impact local weather conditions as well as global climate change. The flight demonstration will show whether small satellites are as effective at measuring TSI as the larger, space-based remote sensors in use currently.
The target orbit for the mission “is approximately 500 km above the Earth’s surface at a 45-degree inclination.”
June 30, 2022 UPDATE – We’ve edited the story with some new information on the DND payload. As well, the launch was postponed due to an issue in fuel temperature. No new date for the launch has been set but it could just be a few days delay.