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August 26th, 2019

General Atomics Orbital Test Bed Satellite Payload Commissioning is Underway

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) reports that the commissioning of NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC), the primary hosted payload on-board the Orbital Test Bed (OTB) satellite, is now underway — GA-EMS’ OTB was successfully launched at 2:30 a.m. EDT on June 25, 2019, on board the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. 

Top image:
The Atomic Clock, GPS Receiver, and Ultra-Stable Oscillator which make up the Deep Space Atomic Clock Payload, following integration into the middle bay of General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems Orbital Test Bed Spacecraft.

Bottom image:
The planned Deep Space Atomic Clock mission will demonstrate the clock's operability and performance while flown in Earth orbit as a hosted payload. A Global Positioning System receiver and antenna will be connected with the clock in an integrated payload. The clock will have, on average, a view of four satellites and will measure signals transmitted by each. Together, with data from a global network of dozens of ground GPS receivers, signals can simultaneously estimate the accuracy of the Deep Space Atomic Clock.

Imagery is courtesy of NASA.

DSAC is a miniaturized, ultra-precise, mercury-ion atomic clock intended to support deep space navigation and exploration. It was designed and built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Technology Demonstration Missions Program.

In addition to DSAC, GA-EMS’ OTB spacecraft is hosting technology demonstration payloads including: a Modular Solar Array developed for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL); an Integrated Miniaturized Electrostatic Analyzer sensor payload developed by cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy; the RadMon next generation radiation effects monitor; and the FlexRX programmable satellite receiver.

Also on board OTB as a passive payload are Celestis cremains for Earth orbit memorial spaceflight.

Scott Forney, the president of GA-EMS OTB spacecraft is operating nominally and the company has successfully met the first milestone in DSAC commissioning, which involves power up and establishing normal telemetry. GA-EMS is working closely with JPL to successfully bring DSAC to operational status, and will continue to provide operations support services as DSAC enters its year-long mission to demonstrate its capabilities to support deep space navigation.

Nick Bucci, VP of GA-EMS Missile Defense and Space Systems, noted that before DSAC began the commissioning process, OTB underwent its own critical checkout sequence, including establishing communications, “de-tumbling” and spacecraft stabilization, solar panel deployment, and entering a power and thermally safe mode. The company is extremely proud of the team for successfully completing these critical milestones to initiate the on-schedule commissioning process for DSAC. In addition,the company is now powering up and establishing communication links with the other four customer-provided technology payloads on-board OTB to start their commissioning processes.

Artistic rendition of General Atomics OTB satellite.

Image is courtesy of the company.

Bucci continued that OTB is a configurable, versatile rideshare platform that is designed to increase the number of flight opportunities to space-qualify multiple demonstration payloads on a single satellite,. The firm works closely with customers to design and build OTB satellites to meet multiple payload requirements to alleviate the costly burden of designing, building, and launching a dedicated platform for each payload. Customers can focus more on their mission objectives, and leave the design, manufacture, launch and mission operation services to GA-EMS.