Since this Wednesday, the Netherlands has its own military satellite in orbit around the Earth: the BRIK-II. At 4:47 p.m., the Air Force’s nanosatellite was launched into orbit with the 21-meter rocket LauncherOne, which was launched from under the wing of a Virgin Orbit Boeing 747. The plane had previously taken off from the Mojave Space Port in the California desert.
Brik-II is a nanosatellite, a small satellite made up of six standard cubes of 10 centimeters. With six such units, he measures 10 by 20 by 30 centimeters, about a carton of cornflakes. BRIK-II is a technology demonstration project with which the Air Force wants to gain experience in building, launching and using its own satellite.
“Space is becoming increasingly important for national security,” said Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Buijs of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, who led the project. Satellite navigation, satellite imagery and satellite communications are indispensable for armed forces, but satellites are now also in danger of becoming military targets themselves.
The nanosatellite was developed by TU Delft, the Netherlands Aerospace Center and the satellite company Isispace in Delft, together with the Air Force. Total costs: approximately 3 million euros.
There are three instruments on board: a so-called scintillation monitor that can detect turbulence in the ionosphere. Such turbulence can interfere with radio signals in the same way as enemy jammers (jammers), so it’s helpful to be able to make the distinction. A second instrument detects radar stations on Earth, and a third is a sort of secret mailbox: military units in the field can transmit sensitive information if BRIK-II comes across. He then remembers the message, only to deliver it above the Netherlands.
The name is a reference to the Brik from 1913, the first aircraft of what later became the Royal Netherlands Air Force. But on the traditional flight patch of the mission is a brick (‘brick’) that seems to break through a glass ceiling.
The launch, with the help of the 21-meter-long rocket LauncherOne from under a converted Boeing 747, is only the second successful flight of the space company Virgin Orbit. This so-called air launch offers more flexibility than a vertically taking off rocket: only a runway is needed as a launch pad. Simultaneously with BRIK-II, satellites from the Polish company SatRevolution and an American defense satellite were launched.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of July 1, 2021