Having flown to the International Space Station (ISS) with the Cygnus Orb 2 (Janice Voss) unmanned freigther spacecraft which was launched in July, the plan to deploy all 28 PlanetLabs’ FLOCK 1B Earth observation cubesats from ISS has had to be curtailed. On 22 August 2014, an intermittent electrical fault on the deployer mechanism attached to the Japanese robotic arm (outside the JAXA Kibo module) prevented some of the cubesat release attempts from working.  After eight of the Flock 1B 3U cubesats had been deployed, it was decided to end all further release attempts until a repair (probably involving a replacement electronics box launched to the ISS) had taken place.   

However, at 1944 GMT on 23 August 2014, two more of the 3U cubesats, were unexpectedly deployed.  As this happened in an uncommanded way the deployer/dispenser was completely powered down as a precaution.  Bizarrely, in a fashion that seemed to indicated that the Nanoracks-built deployer/dispenser might have a “mind of its own”, two more satellites, were also subsequently ejected in an uncommanded manner at 0929 GMT on 5 September 2014.

Cubesats being released from ISS. Courtesy: NASA

Cubesats being released from ISS. Courtesy: NASA