ORLANDO, Fla. – With the launch of its first satellite with Rocket Lab, an Orlando software company is one step closer to providing airline tracking that its founder says could help prevent tragedies like the Malaysia Airlines flight 370 by closing the gap current systems have to track overseas flights.
ACME AtronOmatic, LLC, the makers of the MyRadar Weather Radar app, launched the satellite in December as a secondary payload on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from New Zealand. The mission was named “Running Out Of Fingers” to mark the commercial space company’s 10th launch.
In line with Rocket Lab’s unique naming, the Orlando tech company founded by Andy Green also included its own bit of flair on its space mission. As a tribute to ACME’s work, a crowd-funded space combat computer game called Star Citizen, the pocket satellite included a special engraving.
“We took the logo for their game and we engraved it on the side of the satellite so their logo is orbiting the planet,” Green said.
The tiny CubeSat was designed to test technology that will track planes flying overseas.
“Most aircraft these days, they rely on ground-based radar stations to locate them and track them,” Green said. “But you know, once the aircraft goes over the ocean,l radar is no longer effective."
The inspiration for the technology was a number of high-profile crashes, including Malaysia Airlines flight in 2014 which disappeared – along with 227 passengers and 12 crew members -- while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The plane has never been found but records from air traffic control computers indicate it vanished somewhere over the Andaman Sea far beyond radar range, according to a report earlier this year in The Atlantic.
“With proper global coverage, those aircraft could have been tracked, we would have known where their last known position was,” Green said. “Given the severity of the incidents, I don’t know that we could have saved lives, but certainly, the forensics of the accident could have been better to help us understand."
The satellite takes advantage of broadcast radio signals, known as ADS/B, already on most aircraft used today to transit a plane’s location to ground stations.
ACME is already working on its next satellite, which will focus on improving weather forecasting. The spacecraft will use patent-pending hyperspectral imagery to give a 3D perspective of what’s happening below, which will provide a better understanding of tropical cyclones and hurricanes, Green said.
Ultimately, Green said he wants to launch a constellation of tiny satellites that would provide aircraft, shipping and weather tracking.
Green said the biggest barrier to launching a spacecraft isn’t money. The company paid Alba Orbital about $28,000 to be the intermediary with Rocket Lab to launch the payload and ACME hired its own satellite engineer.
It really comes down to understanding how to build a spacecraft, and the processes to launch, including lots of paperwork, Green said.
ACME has offices in Orlando and Portland and Green said he expects the company’s staff to grow as its space footprint increases.