Xplore makes a deal to use OrbAstro’s satellite platforms for space missions

An artist’s conception shows Xplore’s first satellite, which will use Orbital Astronautics’ ORB-6 platform for Earth observation and astronomical research. (OrbAstro Illustration)

Redmond, Wash.-based Xplore has signed a contract with Orbital Astronautics Ltd. to use its standardized satellite platform for a variety of missions, starting with a space imaging mission that’s due for launch as early as this year.

The debut mission will fly hyperspectral and high-resolution video payloads built by Xplore. “This mission will provide two of our services: data as a service, and sensors as a service,” Lisa Rich, Xplore’s founder and chief operating officer, told GeekWire in an email.

Rich said the onboard imagers will make Earth observations as well as astronomical observations from low Earth orbit. She said Xplore has procured a launch reservation but isn’t yet ready to identify the launch provider.

In a news release issued today, Rich focused on the deal with Orbital Astronautics, a space technology company that’s based in Britain and New Zealand.

Lisa Rich is Xplore’s founder and chief operating officer. (Xplore Photo)

“We are excited to have our first flight underway, and it is wonderful to work with OrbAstro — a collaborative and high-quality supplier helping reduce time and cost in our mission development,” she said.

OrbAstro CEO Ash Dove-Jay said “Xplore is a highly innovative company that likes to move fast, which is what OrbAstro is all about.”

“Through working very closely with the Xplore team, we were able to quickly create an affordable solution for highly demanding mission parameters,” Dove-Jay said.

In addition to using OrbAstro’s satellite platform (also known as a satellite bus), Xplore is developing its own platform, known as Xcraft.

“Xcraft development is proceeding rapidly,” Rich told GeekWire. “This first mission using OrbAstro’s bus is flying some instruments for testing and software development purposes.”

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OrbAstro’s ORB-6 platform will serve as the foundation for the first mission. Xplore said the platform was selected because it meets the company’s requirement to fly multiple instruments on a single mission. ORB-class platforms feature Ultrascale+ and LPDDR4-based onboard computing, electric propulsion, a full-scale attitude determination and control system with dual star-trackers, an S-band transceiver and an optical communications system.

“OrbAstro’s turnkey solution enables Xplore to run missions that prove out operations, data acquisition capabilities and customer integration functions,” Rich said. “We embrace suppliers and partners capable of moving at the speed of business, as they accelerate our ability to rapidly deliver high-value data to our customers.”

Xplore’s “Space as a Service” business model offers a variety of options for commercial and government customers, targeting destinations that range from low Earth orbit to the moon, Mars, Venus and asteroids.

In September, the five-year-old venture reported receiving a $2 million contract from National Security Innovation Capital, a hardware development accelerator within the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, to speed up work on the Xcraft platform.

Rich made clear that the deal with OrbAstro won’t eliminate the need for Xcraft.

“The Xcraft and OrbAstro buses both are used to sell data as a service and sensors as a surface,” she said in her emailed response to questions. “The Xcraft also offers the ability to provide satellite as a service, and host payloads for our customers.”

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