Poland-based satellite company SatRevolution has partnered with scientists and engineers from nearly a dozen Polish universities and Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company, Virgin Orbit, to establish a new consortium to “design and carry out the world’s first dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars”.
The parties established the consortium – which will look to jointly develop the first in a series of up to three Mars missions, with the initial launch expected as early as three years from now – at a formal signing ceremony during the Impact Mobility’19 rEVolution conference in Katowice, Poland.
According to a statement issued by Virgin Orbit, the consortium’s preliminary work indicates that “spacecraft as small as 50 kg or less can be used for a broad range of opportunities for scientific study”, such as image collection, analysis of the Martian atmosphere and looking for underground water.
The consortium members include the AGH University of Science and Technology, Wrocław University of Science and Technology, Poznań University of Technology, Gdańsk University of Technology Lódz University of Technology, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, and Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences have each signed on to take part in the collaborative program.
“Leadership from these universities see the consortium and the missions it will conduct as an unprecedented opportunity for growth and development across many technical disciplines, in addition to creating opportunities for commercialization”, Virgin Orbit said.
The mission is expected to fly on Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, a “responsive air-launch platform” allegedly capable of operating from spaceports around the world. LauncherOne rockets are made in the USA – in Long Beach, California – and are deployed from a dedicated 747-400 carrier aircraft.
Virgin Orbit’s first orbital rocket is currently undergoing final checkouts and preparation for a test flight expected this year, the company said.
SatRevolution, headquartered in Wroclaw and specializing in complete satellite solutions, will be primarily responsible for the design and manufacturing of the small satellite, providing its basic subsystems. In April 2019, SatRevolution sent its Światowid spacecraft into Earth orbit, Poland’s first commercial nanosatellite.
“To me, it is only fitting that the nation of Copernicus should play an important part of the humanity’s understanding of our solar system,” Poland’s Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology, Jadwiga Emilewicz, commented.
“To that end, in 2014, we established the Polish Space Agency (POLSA), which was given the specific task of supporting the growing Polish space industry by combining the world of business and science. But the future looks even brighter”, he added.
“Polish scientists and engineers are ready to develop the first ever interplanetary scientific CubeSat mission,” Grzegorz Zwoliński, SatRevolution president, said, expressing a desire for Poland to become the “go-to country” for small interplanetary spacecraft.
“This mission will galvanize the Polish space sector and mark its position on the international arena,” he added. “The project will accelerate the development of small satellites and of lightweight space science instrument technology.”
“Virgin Orbit is thrilled to join this consortium, as it speaks directly to our mantra of ‘opening space for everyone’,” Virgin Orbit’s Vice President of Business Development Stephen Eisele, said. “Given Poland’s strong foundation in engineering and sciences, government and academia in the country would benefit greatly from the increased access to space afforded by flexible, dedicated launch platforms like LauncherOne.”
“We have already seen the incredible utility of small satellites here in Earth Orbit, and we’re thrilled to start providing dedicated launches to deep space,” he concluded. “We’re proud to enable a new wave of Polish creativity and innovation in space.”