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First Astranis Satellite Suffers Deployment Glitch

Arcturus, the first satellite built by Astranis has suffered a major deployment glitch, causing it to not be able to fulfill its intended mission.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Sat Jul 22 2023Written by Zac Aubert

Arcturus, the first satellite built by Astranis has suffered a major deployment glitch, causing it to not be able to fulfill its intended mission.

The Californian manufacturer's CEO, John Gedmark, announced that the satellite, Arcturus is unable to provide commercial broadband over Alaska due to technical difficulties to maintain its solar arrays not being able to point at the sun, resulting in a lack of sufficient power

The problem arises from the failure of both solar array drive assemblies, which are responsible for positioning the solar panels that power the satellite. Despite these setbacks, Astranis remains optimistic, estimating that the spacecraft can still deliver limited service, ranging from six to 12 hours a day.

While this is not enough to ensure continuous broadband coverage over Alaska as initially planned, Gedmark stated that Arcturus could still serve as an in-orbit test bed or be repurposed for an alternative mission.

In the wake of the technical setback, Astranis aims to resolve the component issue through a combination of software and hardware changes on their upcoming satellites in production. However, this may cause a slight delay in the launch of the next batch of four satellites, collectively known as "Block 2," by just a couple of months.

Credit: Astranis

Among the Block 2 satellites, one previously undisclosed spacecraft, named UtilitySat possesses a diverse range of transponders in Ka, Ku, Q, and V band spectrum, enabling it to cater to various mission requirements and customers worldwide. Though not as capable as Arcturus, the dedicated spacecraft from the Astranis. UtilitySat will now focus on providing connectivity over Alaska as a partial replacement for Arcturus.

Astranis has refrained from disclosing specific technical details about the component issue, stating that it falls under the category of a few spacecraft parts that Astranis does not build in-house, and will not comment on the component's provider, flight history, or whether the issue is covered by the satellite's insurance.

Arcturus was one of two playloads that launch aboard the SpaceX Falcon heavy, Viasat-3 was the primary payload which has also suffered deployment difficulties, failing to deploy a critical antenna necessary for its promised terabit broadband services. Astranis has not found any evidence linking the two events.

As Astranis works on resolving the issues with Arcturus and preparing UtilitySat for its role in providing connectivity over Alaska, the company aims to deploy a full replacement satellite for Pacific Dataport in early 2025 under a commercial agreement. Astranis confirmed that the forthcoming satellites will have significantly greater capacity than Arcturus was designed for, incorporating all the improvements made over the past few years.

Looking ahead, Astranis already has plans for Block 3, with five more satellites scheduled for launch next year on an undisclosed dedicated rocket. Out of these, three customers have been publicly disclosed: two for Mexican telco Apco Networks and one for Orbits Corp, the satellite services division of Philippine internet service provider HTechCorp.