Axient Supports Successful NASA Starling CubeSat Launch

On July 17, NASA Ames Research Center launched the Starling CubeSats from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Starling is a swarm technology demonstration mission that consists of four 6U spacecraft in a sun-synchronous orbit. Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) provided the spacecraft bus to NASA Ames. Axient’s team integrated and tested the bus and payloads and did full tests of all four fully integrated spacecraft. We supported the development of the Distributed Spacecraft Autonomy (DSA) and the HAMLET propulsion system that was developed at Ames. All four spacecraft use the BCT S-Band radio for downlink communications and each spacecraft can communicate with one another over their S-band crosslink radios. The payload consists of the Bus Interface Card (BIC), which was also developed at Ames, and the Cesium crosslink radio. The payload for each spacecraft uses a Xiphos Q7 as the payload processor. All four spacecraft have a Globalstar simplex transmitter for low-bandwidth, backup communications.
The Starling mission intent is to test out each technology to understand what works, what are the limitations, and what is still needed in terms of swarm technology development. The four satellites will fly in two formations. The first formation will begin in line, or in-train, from there they will move into the second formation a set of stable relative orbits also known as passive safety ellipses. Each of these formations will test four technologies:
  • Network communication protocols
  • Cluster flight control algorithms
  • Autonomous reactive operations software
  • Relative navigation algorithms
Through Axient’s work at NASA Ames Research Center, our team supported from Phase A – Phase F (Design, Development, Manufacturing, Integration and Test, Mission Operations, and Closeout) activities. The following areas are supported by our team:
  1. Mission Design
  2. Flight Dynamics
  3. Cluster Flight Experiment
  4. Mission Operations
  5. Ground Data Systems
  6. Communications
  7. Spectrum Management
  8. Configuration Management
  9. Cabling and Manufacturing
  10. Integration and Test
  11. Project Management Support
  12. Systems Engineering Support


(Image Credit: NASA)