In July of 2017, Astro Digital lost two Landmapper CubeSats. The CubeSats were launched on a Soyuz rocket, as part of a 72-satellite payload. While most were launched without any issues, at least nine of the CubeSats in the upper stage of the Fregat failed to respond to commands.
The Astro Digital satellites were not the only ones that failed. Students at the Moscow State University also set up a Mayak CubeSat, which became unresponsive in the same way. They investigated possible causes and ran simulations replicating launch conditions. After extensive research, the students determined that the failure was due to low-thrust engine decompression, which resulted in conditions inhibiting CubeSat function.
Losing CubeSats in this manner can set a company back millions, if not billions, of dollars. Real-space tests provide invaluable information, not to mention the years of development that went into constructing the satellite itself. After experiencing a prior CubeSat loss, Astro Digital opted to insure the Landmapper ones. Individuals with knowledge of the matter have confirmed to reporters that the company chose Starr Aviation as their insurer.
Insiders say that Astro Digital filed their claim shortly after the incident, but that Starr Aviation was waiting for confirmation as to the cause of the failure. After it was found that the failure was due to a problem with the launch, not with the satellites themselves, the claim was paid in full. This documentation included telemetry documents obtained from Roscosmos, the organization that arranged for the launch. Telemetry data indicated that the control thrusters failed to fire, pumping out hydrazine instead. This chemical caused an explosion after the second thruster ignited.
The original goal of the mission was to launch a constellation of upward 20 satellites, capturing images of agricultural land once every four or so days. Eventually, the company plans to increase the imaging capability, so they capture one multispectral image per day. Researchers hope the images produced by the satellite can give them insight into growth in a variety of different conditions, including during droughts. The images produced by Landmapper satellites contain the highest quality pixels, making it easier to analyze.
While representatives from both companies have not commented on the payout, citing non-disclosure agreements, industry experts believe that Astro Digital may use the funds to increase their existing Landmapper satellite base. Despite the unfortunate loss, the company still plans to carry on with their research and development, continuing to expand their existing constellation.