With the successful launch of the SpaceX Transporter-7 ridesharing mission early Saturday morning April 15, payloads from three Canadian companies made it to orbit.
Each company is at a different stage in the development of their constellations, but all are looking forward to putting their satellites to work to meet rapidly growing terrestrial demand.
Kepler Expanding Current Constellation, Preparing Their Next
Kepler Communications has an established constellation that they’re looking to expand in both size and capability, and a new one on the way. As discussed in a recent report by SpaceQ, Kepler recently closed a USD$92 million Series C funding round led by IA Ventures, and they’re planning on using their new funding to “launch an optical data relay infrastructure in 2024, complementing its existing RF network.”
The combination of their new constellation and existing constellation will mean Kepler will have “optical communications infrastructure [that uses] two near-orthogonal planes of relay satellites in sun-synchronous orbits, with satellites in each plane continuously connected using SDA-compatible optical inter-satellite links.” Optical services are expected to be available to customers by Q1 2025.
A Kepler spokesperson said in an email statement that these two new satellites launched with Transport-7, KEP-20 and KEP-21, are going to “expand our current constellation,” and aren’t part of Kepler’s new constellation, They said, however, that the two satellites will “test payload technology for our next-generation satellites.”
GHGSat Expands Constellation to Meet Demand
For GHGSat, the story is similar. In an interview with SpaceQ, GHGSat CEO Stephane Germane said that the three new satellites are “a big step forward,” but that they’re “a continuation of our expansion of our existing constellation.” The three new methane detection satellites, GHGSat-C6 (Mey-Lin), GHGSat-C7 (Gaspard) and GHGSat-C8 (Océane) are functionally identical to their existing ones, including the same high-resolution interferometer and exist primarily to expand their constellation’s capacity.
(The satellites, like previous ones in their constellation, are named after the children of GHGSat team members.)
Germane said that these satellites, as well as the other ones launching later this year, will be needed to satisfy rising customer demand. He said that “we’re seeing increased demand…across all segments and all sectors” for their methane-detection technology. While they had focused on the Oil & Gas sector —and Germane said that that “beachhead market” was still “very important to us,” they’re seeing more calls for their services from other industries and from governments as well. The recent IPCC report on Climate Change underlined the importance of the issue.
Germane said that they’ve already had some “wins” under their belt when it comes to private-sector methane monitoring. He was able to point to a situation in Canada where discovering a methane leak at an oil and gas facility led to a solid reduction in emissions equivalent to “taking a few thousand cars off the road for a year,” and a larger issue in a Middle Eastern facility where an unlit flare they discovered was fixed, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of “taking half a million cars off the road for a year.”
As methane is a much more intense source of global warming than even CO2, finding and fixing these methane leaks is valued work, especially as methane has market value—including, not insignificantly, as a source of rocket fuel. Leaks cost money, and fixing leaks saves it.
GHGSat said they’re also seeing more governmental customer interest, though. When asked, he explained that part of their demand is coming from governmental and regulatory actors who are looking to verify their emissions. As emission numbers have historically been based on estimates, there have been real problems with underestimating actual emissions. Germane pointed to research done by Carleton University professor Matthew Johnson, and said that “emissions as measured are typically one and a half to two times higher than the emissions as estimated.” Governments now have a better option, though, thanks to orbital emission tracking technologies like GHGSat’s, and they’re exploring that option.
Yet while GHGSat will be sending up more payloads to meet this growing demand, they’ll no longer be building or operating their own satellites. As discussed in an earlier SpaceQ story, GHGSat will be adding payloads to three of Spire Global’s 16U satellites to be launched in late 2023. In that earlier story, Germane said that their deal with Spire Global was “strictly a satellite-as-a-service deal”, and that “we know how to be a satellite operator, but it’s not our business: our business is to deliver data, insights, and emissions intelligence to our customers.”
The GHGSat satellites launched with Transporter-7, like their previous ones, were built by Toronto’s Space Flight Laboratory (SFL).
SFL said in a release that they also built the NorSat-TD microsatellite for the Norwegian Space Agency that was launched on Saturday morning, and that several other Transporter-7 satellites were based on the SFL DEFIANT platform: including three satellites making up the HawkEye 360 Cluster 7 and several other “commercial communications CubeSats”.
SFL Director Dr. Robert E. Zee said that “[t]hese launches demonstrate SFL’s unmatched ability to deliver quality at price points that are cost effective for both commercial and research missions.”
Wyvern Finally Goes to Space with Dragonette 1
It was Edmonton’s Wyvern Space, however, that hit the biggest milestone on this flight. Though Wyvern Space’s orbital hyperspectral imaging technology has developed growing interest from customers and investors, they hadn’t gotten to orbit yet. That changed on Saturday, with the launch and deployment of their first satellite, the Dragonette 1.
In an interview with SpaceQ, Wyvern Co-Founder and Chief of Staff Callie Lissinna talked about the launch and what it means for their company.
“We’re over the Moon,” she said. “It’s kind of surreal…we’ve been working towards this for five years and we’re about to cross the threshold from being a space company with nothing in space to being a space company with satellites in space. That is just so momentous for all of us.” Lissinna said that she had hosted an online launch party so that the remote-first company’s staff could have the opportunity to come together and celebrate the launch.
Dragonette 1 will be followed by two other Wyvern satellites, Dragonette 2 and 3 later this year. Unlike many other earth observation companies, this first satellite will also be fully operational, providing data to customers, instead of a technology demonstration. Lissinni granted that this was unusual, and that “it is common to have a precursor technology demonstrator satellite,” but said that they believed this was the best approach.
As Dragonette 2 and 3 will be coming soon, and as Dragonette 1 won’t be fully operational until at least the fall of 2023, Lissinna said that there wouldn’t be time to change the hardware on the satellites regardless, though she said that “Dragonette 2 and 3 will have slightly improved cameras,” and they felt that it was vital to “do everything we can to maintain consistency between satellites in our constellation.” Any changes they make will be in the software and procedures they use to gather, transmit, and process the imagery.
Instead, it will be more of a test of their methods and their business model.
Lissinna said that “If this was just a technology demonstration, we’d be missing out on an opportunity to learn from customer feedback, to better understand our markets, and to the assumptions we’ve made about our markets. So in addition to this being the first time we have any technology in space, we really want to make sure that we’re taking advantage of all the ways that we can learn from this as a business.” She added that “this mission is more about de-risking the product and market than it is about de-risking technology,” though they are still “focused on making sure we’re offering the right resolution, quality, and spectral characteristics of data.”
“De-risking” or no, Wyvern is seeing a lot of demand for their data. Even before their satellite reached orbit, Lassini said that they’re already “over half sold with the data for this first satellite before we’re even in orbit,” including customers from the agricultural sector, forestry, and (much like GHGSat) environmental monitoring. Lassini credited this to the excitement over hyperspectral imagery, saying that “2023 is a big coming-out year for hyperspectral,” as well as an extension of existing interest in multispectral technology.