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Colorado-based Small-satellite manufacturer and mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) has successfully launched and gained contact with CubeSats for the NASA Starling mission, parent company RTX announced on 14 August 2023.

The NASA Starling mission is a technology demonstration aimed at proving the success of co-operative groups of spacecraft operating in an autonomous, synchronous manner or ‘swarm’.

BCT provided four 6U CubeSats to NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology programme, which is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The Starling mission is advancing the readiness of various technologies for co-operative groups of spacecraft by demonstrating technologies to enable multipoint science data collection by several small spacecraft flying together.

A BCT 6U CubeSat. The company has provided four such CubeSats for NASA’s Starling mission. (Image: BCT)

The six-month mission will specifically test onboard swarm manoeuvre planning and execution, communications networking, relative navigation, and autonomous co-ordination between satellites.

“We continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible,” John Carvo, Executive Director of CubeSats at BCT, was quoted as saying in an RTX press release. “By providing heritage hardware for a demonstration such as this, we’re continually optimising low costs and quick turns for small constellation programmes.”

The satellites will be positioned in a nearly sun-synchronous, low-Earth orbit, with all four spacecraft actively engaged in the experiment.

BCT delivered the first satellite for the mission in 2021. In addition to manufacturing the satellites, BCT is providing operations support for the Starling mission, which is named after the bird famous for flying in a synchronous or ‘swarm’ formation.

Peter Felstead