Collin Arocho
28 April 2020

NLR and TNO are teaming up with the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) to launch a tandem of research satellites. The nanosatellites, called Birkeland and Huygens, will be used to conduct research as part of the Binational Radiofrequency Observing Satellites (BROS) mission. Its objective is to detect, classify and accurately geolocate RF signals, including navigation radars used on ships, by combining the measurement angle of arrival and time difference of arrival. Simultaneous detection of pulsed radio signals by both satellites flying in tandem enables accurate geolocation during all weather conditions.

Nanoavionics Birkeland and Huygens
Credit: Nanoavionics

The satellites are being built by satellite integrator Nanoavionics of Lithuania, a spinoff from Vilnius University. Both the Birkeland and Huygens satellites will be based on Nanoavioncs’ pre-configured M6P nanosatellite bus with a deployable solar panel configuration, high-precision attitude determination and control system (ADCS) and a propulsion system. The mass of each 6U nanosatellite will be up to 10 kgs. Their launch is scheduled for the second quarter of 2022 when they’ll be placed into a polar low Earth orbit (LEO) with an altitude range of 450-600 km. Both will be positioned in the same orbital plane with a separation of 15-25 km, allowing them to simultaneously detect emissions from radar systems. For a polar LEO orbit of 600 km altitude, the payload antenna will be able to cover any point on the Earth’s surface at least four times per day.

“Exchanging science, research and technology experience in this milspace mission is a great start for flourishing partnerships with the participating organizations,” says Vytenis Buzas, cofounder and CEO of Nanoavionics. “The agreement is also an example of the new crossover between commercial and military space missions.”