Spire Global’s first-ever constellation of CubeSats with cross-links

In upcoming months, Spire Global plans to launch its pioneer CubeSats that integrate cross-link technology. The phased-launch strategy aims to replace Spire’s full constellation of satellites. Peter Platzer, the Chief Executive of Spire Global, said that the company plans to introduce its constellation of inter-satellite links. Platzer unveiled that the inauguration plans encompass the entire satellite constellation scheduled for upcoming launches. Spire intends to develop its first bunch of satellites integrated with the cross-linking technology for mission launches. The first space missions to use the cross-link-equipped satellites include SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launches and Northrop Grumman’s space expedition programs such as the Antares and the Soyuz. 

Spire currently uses its low Earth orbit satellite constellation of 90 CubeSats to deliver numerous amounts of information. The company provides data for aircraft-tracking technology, weather forecasting, and ship-tracking information for navigational systems. Each CubeSat in the satellite constellation passes over ground-based stations to allow downlink data. It takes approximately 10 minutes to download the data collected by the CubeSats. However, some customers complain that it takes too long to accomplish the download procedure. Platzer said that his company plans to introduce the inter-satellite link technology to minimize the downtime during data downlink. The technology allows faster data transfer when the CubeSats pass-by the ground stations. This innovative satellite integration aims to improve the data services provided by Spire Global. 

Spire’s inter-satellite linking allows its CubeSat satellites to work as relays that reduce the time take to collect the data and deliver the information to the customers. The relays utilize lasers and radiofrequency transponders that transmit data from one CubeSat to another until the information reaches the antennas in ground-based stations. However, Platzer never disclosed whether the inter-satellite technologies are radio-frequency-based or use optics. The main advantage is that the technology reduces the lag time to mere milliseconds. Platzer said that the company builds and integrates the cross-links into satellites at its facility in San Francisco, Spire’s headquarter. The company performs its inter-satellite incorporation procedure in-house, allowing for assessments that improve the data transfer speeds.

Even though the inter-satellite cross-links technologies are few, there is a growing adoption because of its reliability and data transfer consistency. The constellation of low-Earth-orbit communication satellites operated by the United States Space Development Agency seeks to incorporate several optical inter-satellite cross link modules. Telesat’s 300 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation aims to implement the inter-satellite links. 

In summary, other projects that seek to use the technology include the Iridium Communication Satellite replacement program and the GPS 3 satellites for the United States Military. Recently, SpaceX experimented with the cross-links on its constellation of broadband satellites for the Starlink program that seeks to provide the plant with ultra-high-speed internet connections.