[UPDATE: Rocket exploded] Rail-launched rocket set to blast NASA satellite network swarm into space


[The Super Strypi rocket blasted off from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai on Nov. 3 but exploded shortly after takeoff. A U.S. Air Force statement said: "The ORS-4 mission on an experimental Super Strypi launch vehicle failed in mid-flight after liftoff at 5:45 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time (7:45 p.m. PST/10:45 p.m. EST) today from the Pacific Missile Range Facility off Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii." No further explanation was available.]

It’s a space mission of firsts. First -- a flock of eight, 4lb tissue box-sized satellites will be launched into space in a proof-of-concept mission that will show how multiple, yet affordable nanosatellites can handle astrophysics duties or perform planetary science investigations, such as placing a network of satellites around an asteroid, Earth’s moon, or another planet.

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The satellites on NASA’s Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission include cross-link communications and a sensor payload which will activate on orbit and make distributed, space radiation measurements, NASA stated. The EDSN swarm is scheduled to have a 60-day operational period in orbit about 280 miles above Earth. The satellites can talk to each other, share data between them and take turns in relaying science data to the ground. Only one satellite needs to contact the ground on each pass in order to transmit the data from all eight, NASA said.

Akin to the NASA PhoneSat spacecraft that were orbited last year, Andrew Petro, program executive for NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP) added: “We are once again using commercial, off-the-shelf electronics as the core of a satellite that has the ability to do a science mission.”

The launch of tens (or someday hundreds) of network-based satellites would enable an unprecedented amount of communications and computing capability in low Earth orbit from which the satellite industry, university researchers, and scientists could benefit, NASA said.

The satellite swarm will ride into space via another proof-of-concept system -- a rail-mounted rocket known as Super Strypi. Aerojet Rocketdyn built the low-cost system, which does not need a complex and costly guidance system, to sling smaller payloads into Low Earth Orbit, the company said.   Its three-stage system is built on existing suborbital sounding rocket technology.

sstp edsn super strypi

Aerojet Rocketdyn Super Strypi 

Super Strypi is intended to offer commercial and non-commercial companies looking to launch cubesats a quick and inexpensive way into space.

The system has been delayed a few times but is expected to launch this month.

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