A Mountain View Firm Has Launched A Second Weather Satellite Into Orbit With Success

A Mountain View Firm Has Launched A Second Weather Satellite Into Orbit With Success

The latest development in a bigger mission to transform how we monitor climate change from space, a Mountain View startup launched its second weather satellite into low Earth orbit on March 5 in less than three years.

Although Muon Space is a relatively new company, Mountain View is well-known for it. Skybox Imaging, a satellite imagery company, is where its original members originated. Paul Day, co-founder and COO of Muon Space, says that Google purchased Skybox in 2014 and renamed it Terra Bella, meaning its address on Terra Bella Avenue.

Many of the original Skybox employees left when Google eventually sold Terra Bella to Planet Labs. However, Muon Space was founded in 2021 and initially operated out of a garage in Menlo Park before moving to Mountain View’s Charleston Road.

“We really missed what we had done at Skybox,” Day said, adding that they built everything at the company. “We didn’t have the opportunity to go outsource. We had to build our own computer, our own batteries, our own radios. We knew how to do it, and we wanted to do that again, to build a really high-performance platform to enable a sort of new class of complex missions in space,” he said.

Muon Space successfully launched its first satellite, MuSat-1, last summer, using the Skybox paradigm of developing a fully integrated spacecraft as its guide. The aerospace business launched MuSat-1, the first of many spacecraft that would make up a “climate constellation” in orbit.

The satellites, which are outfitted with specialized sensors, are intended to keep an eye on the planet’s ecosystems and climate, supplying important information to both commercial companies and governmental organizations such as the Department of Defense, NASA, and NOAA.

This mission was reinforced with the launch of the company’s second satellite, MuSat-2, which carried more sophisticated technologies. Day stated that MuSat-2 is outfitted with a highly programmable software-defined radio that would fulfill two functions. High data rate downlink communications are the focus of the first.

“We collect a lot of data in orbit with the instrument, and we need to get it all on the ground so we can actually view it, make use of it, analyze it. So, you need a fast radio to get all that data down, and this software-defined radio does that for us,” Day said.

“But the cool part is the very same piece of hardware, we can change the software on it and that becomes our science radio,” Day said, adding that it will have GNSS reflectometry capabilities too, allowing it to operate like GPS system.

The radio’s operation also depends on MuSat-2’s location in low Earth orbit. According to Day, it enables listening to both direct satellite transmissions and those that are reflected off the Earth and re-emerge. The method is especially useful for providing climate data such as soil moisture content and sea surface wind velocity.

Since MuSat-2 has only recently launched into space, no data has been collected yet, although its initial operations are looking good, Day said. “We were able to hear from the satellite really quickly after its app powered up and started talking. So that was very exciting for everyone here. It’s a big weight off of our shoulders,” he said.

In the next six months, the aerospace industry plans to launch additional satellites, including a new class of heavier spacecraft that will need more power than MuSat-2. According to Day, in order to keep up with the increase in product delivery, the company plans to expand further at its Mountain View headquarters, especially in its engineering team.

However, Day noted that Muon Space remains committed to producing well-thought-out products that are affordable, take a little time to manufacture, and endure for many years, much like it did with its initial satellites. He stated, “I think we’re in a sweet spot for that kind of balance, and I think it’s attractive to commercial companies as well as the government in particular because they have an expectation of higher quality levels of mission assurance.”