Sat. Sep 30th, 2023
Azalea Cluster: A Next-Generation Satellite Constellation

The Azalea Cluster is a satellite constellation led by BAE Systems, with support from satellite manufacturer ICEYE and system design company Inspace. It consists of four satellites, each with a specific function. One satellite is dedicated to Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), another to cluster computing, one for radio frequency sending and receiving, and the final satellite for optical imagery.

This project, called Azalea, focuses on command and control (C2), surveillance, and navigation. While the goal is to eventually have a constellation of 12 clusters, a single cluster operating at an altitude of 500km can already provide support for any global area.

The key attribute of the Azalea Cluster is its combined capabilities within a single constellation. Particularly, the SAR satellite stands out for its ability to provide all-weather and day/night surveillance.

The project is primarily company-funded, with a focus on the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) £970 million ($1.2 billion) ISTARI program, launched in 2022. ISTARI aims to establish the foundations for a next-generation constellation of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Azalea, on the other hand, aims to demonstrate the potential benefits of extending this requirement.

A BAE Systems official described the Azalea Cluster as “an iPhone in the sky,” offering communication and camera capabilities, with upgradability as well. The company’s size has allowed it to avoid supply chain issues and support other companies involved in the design.

ICEYE, the satellite manufacturer, has recently launched four satellites and has plans to launch four more soon.

The future of the Azalea Cluster depends on customer interest and its performance. It could be owned and operated by a government, owned by the government with the companies operating it, or owned by the companies themselves and tasked by governments.