Flocks in space – 16 Cubesats starts space mission from Kibo module

Tonight International Space Station crew will finish deploying 16 Flock Cubesat satellites from Kibo module.

After inflating BEAM module on Saturday and monitoring air pressure and possible leaks inside new module, crew of ISS started this week with deploying fleet of 16 Cubesat satellites. Since Monday 30 May, 2016, crew members are deploying Flock nanosatellites belonging to Planet Labs. After deployment performed tonight, constellation of Planet Labs nanosatellites will increase again for number of satellites - last deployment of Flock satellites took place on 16, 17 and 18 May 2016. Satellites for both deployments were delivered by Cygnus spacecrafts: first twelve inside of Cygnus CRS-4 (launched on 6 December 2015) and additional twenty inside Cygnus CRS-6 (launched on 23 March 2016).

Flock satellites were designed and are operated by Planet Labs Company which is providing imaging services for customers around the globe. They are imaging spacecrafts with weight at 5 kg and equipped with high resolution imaging device: telescope combined with CCD camera with Bayer-mask filter installed. CCD resolution is 11 MP or 29 MP in most recent version of Flock what gives imaging resolution from 3 m to 5 m. Satellites are 3U sized and their operational life after deployment from ISS is around 12 months.

Deployment of Flock satellites was performed from Japanese Kibo module using Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS) and JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD). JEMRMS is 10 m long robotic arm attached to part of Kibo called Pressurized Module.  It was designed to perform service actions on pressurized part of Kibo (ELM-PS); it is controlled from console installed inside Kibo. In spite of main arm, another smaller arm with 2 m long is attached to perform more precise actions. J-SSOD is special deploying device designed for deploying Cubesat satellites in 1U, 2U and 3U sizes to elliptical orbit with altitude of 380 km x 420 km and inclination at 51.6°; orbit altitude depending on altitude reached of ISS. Deploying procedure starts when satellites are delivered to ISS inside supply spacecraft; Cubesats are delivered preinstalled in Nanoracks Deployer. It is installed on Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform (MPEP) manually by crew and next it is attached to JEM Slide Table inside the Kibo’s airlock. Next step is depressurizing airlock and moving MPEP with Satellite Install Cases outside; they are grabbed by JEMRMS at transferred to deploying point. MPEP is set to be faced to the direction of nadir-aft at 45° to the opposite side of the flight direction. Last step is releasing satellites with spring mechanism which puts them for safe distance from ISS.