16 January 2018
Danish nanosatellite maker GomSpace has signed Virgin Orbit to an early 2019 launch; Virgin’s LauncherOne air-launched rocket, carried aloft by a modified Boeing 747, will orbit “several” nanosatellites as part of an aircraft- and ship-tracking constellation GomSpace is building for sister company Aerial & Maritime. The constellation, expected to begin operation this year, will pick up Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) signals from civil aircraft and Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from ocean-going vessels between 37ºN and 37ºS latitude. Satellite monitoring of ADS-B signals in particular promises a major advance in safety; most airliners today send ADS-B signals at regular intervals, but when over oceans, the poles or other remote regions are typically out of reach of ground-based receivers or radar and hence untrackable.
A&M’s longer-term plan is to offer full global coverage by about 80 satellites in different orbits by 2021.
LauncherOne is in development by Virgin Orbit in Long Beach, California and is being readied for first flight during the first half of this year.