aerospace astronomy spacex SSA Tyvak

Tyvak satellite on SpaceX rideshare mission carries tiny space telescope

WASHINGTON — The Tyvak-0130 rideshare payload that flew to orbit May 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 carries a miniature space telescope for possible commercial use. 

The technology was developed by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under a four-year agreement to advance compact telescopes for commercial applications, Tyvak’s CEO Christian “Boris” Becker said in an interview with SpaceNews.

Becker, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, was recently named chief executive of Tyvak, a satellite manufacturer in Irvine, California, owned by Terran Orbital. 

The space telescope reached orbit successfully but the company has not yet completed the checkout of the satellite, Becker said. The plan is to test the optical imaging payload and then decide if remote sensing services can be made available to customers, he said.

This is the third mini-telescope deployed by Tyvak since 2018. Becker said the company wants to pave the way for commercial space situational awareness services.

Tyvak 6U cubesat

Tyvak-0130 is a 6U cubesat about the size of a large shoebox weighing just 25 pounds

Becker said Lawrence Livermore has “tremendous depth and expertise in imaging capabilities.” The lab has developed mini-telescopes that range in size from one inch to 14 inches.

Tyvak is studying options to commercialize the lab’s space telescope technology, Becker said. “We’ll see where this takes us. We’ve got work ahead of us to make sure that all the systems are operating as they should.”

As incoming CEO, Becker said he sees growing opportunities for Tyvak’s small satellite buses. The company supplies buses to sister company PredaSAR which plans to deploy a constellation of synthetic aperture radar imaging satellites. 

Two 6U cubesats built by Tyvak were launched in March by Rocket Lab for two separate Australian companies developing internet-of-things satellite constellations: Myriota 7 for Myriota and Centauri 3 for Fleet. 

Tyvak also is supplying buses to Lockheed Martin, which last year won a contract from the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency to provide 10 communications satellites. Becker said SDA will be an important customer for commercial space suppliers because it is “changing the way we acquire space systems in the Defense Department.”


aerospace astronomy Capella falcon 9 rideshare spacex starlink Tyvak

SpaceX launches Starlink satellites and rideshare payloads

Falocn 9 launch

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched another group of Starlink satellites May 15 on a mission that included two rideshare payloads.

The Falcon 9 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A at 6:56 p.m. Eastern. The rocket’s first stage, making its eighth launch dating back to the Demo-2 commercial mission nearly a year ago, landed on a droneship in the Atlantic.

The rocket’s primary payload, 52 Starlink satellites, separated from the rocket’s upper stage 1 hour and 38 minutes after liftoff. The launch brings the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to more than 1,600. This was the fourth Falcon 9 launch of Starlink satellites in 17 days, and the ninth Falcon 9 launch of Starlink satellites since the beginning of March.

This launch did not carry the usual complement of 60 Starlink satellites as SpaceX included two rideshare payloads on the rocket that were released from the upper stage about an hour after liftoff. One was the latest in a series of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging satellites for Capella Space. The company launched two other SAR satellites on Transporter-1, a SpaceX Falcon 9 dedicated rideshare mission in January.

The other was Tyvak-0130, a satellite built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems. Neither Tyvak nor SpaceX disclosed details about the satellite, including basic information such as its size and mission. A September 2019 document by NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs office described Tyvak-0130 as “an optical spectrum astronomy observation satellite” but did not disclose technical details or if the satellite was built for another customer.

A February 2020 application for a ground station filed with the Federal Communications Commission said that the antenna would be used to communicate with both Tyvak-0130 and Tyvak-0129. The latter is a 6U cubesat launched in December 2019 designed to test what Tyvak called “next-generation spacecraft systems” it planned to use on future spacecraft.

Kate Tice, the host of the SpaceX webcast, said that the company “offers multiple launch opportunities each month for small satellites to ride to space on existing low Earth orbit missions.” However, this is only the second mission of the year to carry rideshare payloads, after Transporter-1 launch in January. Several Falcon 9 launches of Starlink satellites last year carried rideshare payloads for BlackSky and Planet.

SpaceX used the launch webcast to note its May 13 partnership with Google, where SpaceX will collocate ground terminals with Google Cloud data centers. The companies said they would provide new services based on this partnership later this year.

SpaceX also announced it had started beta testing Starlink in parts of the Netherlands. The company has been gradually expanding the beta test program, recently adding Austria and France.