France: Since its launch six months ago, the GomX-3 CubeSat is tracking aircraft in flight across the entire globe. Built for ESA by GomSpace, Denmark, the satellite was ejected from the International Space Station on 5 October 2015, along with a Danish student satellite. The satellite is small enough to fit in an airline passenger’s carry-on bag.
“CubeSats are based on standardised 10 cm cubic units,” explains Roger Walker, overseeing ESA’s technology CubeSat effort. “Being small and low-cost, they make ideal platforms for rapidly flight testing experimental technologies.
“This 3-unit GomX-3 is ESA’s very first technology CubeSat to fly. We were able to make it operational within only 96 hours of its release from the Space Station, with a wide variety of tests taking place during the following months.”
GomX-3’s distinctive helical antenna has detected millions of signals from aircraft, building a detailed map of global aviation traffic. These signals are regularly broadcast from aircraft, giving flight information such as speed, position and altitude. All aircraft entering European airspace are envisaged to provide such automatic surveillance in the coming years.
In addition, the CubeSat is measuring radio signals emitted by telecom satellites to assess their overall transmission efficiency and how their signal quality changes with respect to distance from their target footprints.
“A success in terms of planning, speed of development and technical achievements, GomX-3 has now completed its planned six-month technology demonstration mission and continues to operate normally,” explains Roger. He adds, “With its orbit naturally decaying from atmospheric drag, the satellite is predicted to re-enter and burn up in September of this year.”