Air Force cubesats fly to International Space Station aboard Northrop Grumman resupply mission


Two Air Force cubesats were among many experimental projects encapsulated in the NG-12 Cygnus mission.

WASHINGTON — Two identical cubesats developed by the Aerospace Corp. for the U.S. Air Force were aboard a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket that flew a cargo resupply mission Nov. 2 to the International Space Station.

The shoebox-size satellites, named Rogue Alpha and Rogue Beta, were among many experimental projects encapsulated in the NG-12 Cygnus mission. The capsule will mate with the International Space Station and the satellites will remain there until they are deployed into their operating orbit in early 2020, said the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.

The Rogue cubesats will collect data to support future satellite developments, said SMC. The cubesats also were used to test rapid prototyping techniques as the Air Force seeks to speed up the timeline for building satellites that would be part of a proliferated low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation. Rogue Alpha and Rogue Beta were designed, built and tested by the Aerospace Corp., a nonprofit corporation that operates as a federally funded research and development center.

To compress the development and production schedule to under 18 months, the design uses commercial-off-the-shelf components and sensors, said SMC. The cubesats have a high-speed laser communications system that will enable downlinks of large image files. SMC said the satellites will provide test data for new short-wave infrared band satellites, and will collect data on cloud backgrounds to inform future LEO missions.

“This mission has set a precedent for speed and will also provide us with much needed data for future space development programs,” Col. Dennis Bythewood, program executive officer for space development, said in a statement.

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