Alba Orbital is a start-up company that builds and designs Pico-satellites (Pocket-Qubes), small satellites weighing under 1kgs. While offering almost all of the advantages of a CubeSat. These satellites are modular with each 1P of volume equal to 5cm x 5 cm x 5cm and with capabilities of stacking these modular units together to get larger volumes. Alba is based in Glasgow, UK being leaders in this niche, they are closely partnered with ESA.
The company developed the Unicorn-1 and -2 satellite platforms. Unicorn-1 platform is a 1P Pico-satellite while its slightly larger their Unicorn-2 platform, which is a 2P satellite that is 5 x 5 x 10cm.
Alba Orbital is also a launch broker, and in the last year. it has announced partnerships with several space companies, including Vector and Rocket Lab, in order to send Pocket-Qube satellites into space. These launches harbor clusters containing space for Pocket-Qubes, sold to teams wanting to send a pod along, and using the Alba-pod deployers in order to release the clusters. These deployers come in two sizes: 6P and 96P.
On December 6th, 2019 Alba launched its first 6P Pocket-Qubes on an Electron launch vehicle operated by Rocket Lab from New Zealand. The payload of this historical launch contained the picosats: SMOG-P, ATL-1, both developed by faculty and students at the Budapest University of Technology & Economics (BME), FOSSASat-1 for Fossa Systems from Spain, TRSI-1 weather satellite for ACME/MyRadar and Alba’s Noor 1a (Unicorn-2b) and Noor 1b (Unicorn-2c).
The next two cluster deployments would have room for 12P and are scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 launcher operated by SpaceX USA. Three launches are planned for 2022, the first one, Transporter-3 mission, was executed on January 13th.
|Satellite||Operator||Mission||Launch Date||Launcher||Launch Operator|
|Noor 1a (Unicorn-2b)||Stara||‘Running-Out-of-Fingers’||Dec 6th, 2019||Electron||Rocket Lab NZ|
|Noor 1b (Unicorn-2c)||Stara||‘Running-Out-of-Fingers’||Dec 6th, 2019||Electron||Rocket Lab NZ|
|SMOG-P||BME||‘Running-Out-of-Fingers’||Dec 6th, 2019||Electron||Rocket Lab NZ|
|ATL-1||ATL, Ltd.||‘Running-Out-of-Fingers’||Dec 6th, 2019||Electron||Rocket Lab NZ|
|FOSSASat-1||Fossa||‘Running-Out-of-Fingers’||Dec 6th, 2019||Electron||Rocket Lab NZ|
|TRSI-1||ACME||‘Running-Out-of-Fingers’||Dec 6th, 2019||Electron||Rocket Lab NZ|
|Unicorn-1||Transporter-3||Jan 13th, 2022||Falcon 9||SpaceX USA|
|Unicorn-2a||Transporter-3||Jan 13th, 2022||Falcon 9||SpaceX USA|
|Unicorn-2d||Transporter-3||Jan 13th, 2022||Falcon 9||SpaceX USA|
|Unicorn-2e||Transporter-3||Jan 13th, 2022||Falcon 9||SpaceX USA|
|Unicorn-2TA1||Transporter-3||Jan 13th, 2022||Falcon 9||SpaceX USA|
|TRSI-2||ACME||‘There-And-Back-Again’||Apr 29th, 2022||Electron||Rocket Lab NZ|
|TRSI-3||ACME||‘There-And-Back-Again’||Apr 29th, 2022||Electron||Rocket Lab NZ|
|MyRadar-1||ACME||‘There-And-Back-Again’||Apr 29th, 2022||Electron||Rocket Lab NZ|
|Unicorn-2g||Transporter-6||Jan 3rd, 2023||Falcon 9||SpaceX USA|
|Unicorn-2h||Transporter-6||Jan 3rd, 2023||Falcon 9||SpaceX USA|
Alba Orbital was founded in 2012 by Tom Walkinshaw. He started the company in his bedroom by building prototype Pocket-Qubes, which would eventually be flown on orbit. Wilkinshaw has won many awards and accolades including GCU Alumni of the Year 2019.
In January 2019 Alba sold the first two Unicorn-2 Pocket-Qube spacecraft platforms to US-based stealth mode startup, Stara Space. Stara plans to use these two satellites as a proof of concept for an eventual constellation to service other space users with high-speed real-time data connection, storage, and computation. The satellites (Noor-1A and Noor-1B) will demonstrate a LEO-LEO intersatellite link, encrypted communication, ADCS, and integration with ground station software that allows 3rd party satellites to request data transfer, crucial technologies required to create a real-time global communications constellation.
In 2021 the company raised 3.4 million USA by participating in the startup accelerator program Y Combinator, located in Silicon Valley in the USA.
On January 13th 2022 another four smallsats in Alba Orbital’s cluster flew as part of a rideshare mission on a Falcon 9 launch vehicle operated by SpaceX. The cluster included Alba Orbital’s own Unicorn-2 Pocket-Qube satellites.
Unicorn-2 will be carrying an optical night-time imaging payload designed to monitor light pollution across the globe. Night-time satellite imagery, otherwise known as ‘Night Lights’ data, provides crucial insights into human activities. This data enables a host of applications such as tracking urbanization and socioeconomic dynamics, evaluating conflict and disasters, investigating fisheries, assessing greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, and analyzing light pollution and health effects.
On January 3rd, 2023 the company launched two satellites, Unicorn 2g and -2h with the Launcher Orbiter SN1 on the Transporter-6 Rideshare mission on a Falcon 9 rocket operated by SpaceX.
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