NASA selects tiny research satellites for future missions

NASA has selected more than dozen small research satellites that could fit in the palm of your hand to fly in space on future rocket launches.
Called CubeSats, these cube-shaped nanosatellites are small but pack an outsized research punch.

They will enable unique technology demonstrations, education research and science missions and will study topics ranging from how the solar system formed to the demonstration of a new radiation-tolerant computer system, the US space agency said in a statement.

The map above shows the 2015 CubeSat Launch Initiative selections. Image Credit: NASA / Google Maps
The map above shows the 2015 CubeSat Launch Initiative selections.
Image Credit: NASA / Google Maps

The 14 CubeSats selected are from 12 states and will fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets planned to launch in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

They come from universities across the country, non-profit organisations and NASA field centres.

As part of the White House Maker Initiative, NASA is seeking to leverage the growing community of space-enthusiasts to create a nation that contributes to NASA’s space exploration goals.

The aim is to launch 50 small satellites from all 50 states in the next five years.

The organizations sponsoring satellites are:

  • Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona: Asteroid Origins Satellite is a science laboratory that will be the world’s first CubeSat centrifuge. It will enable a unique set of science and technology experiments to be performed on a CubeSat to answer fundamental questions of how the solar system formed and understand the surface dynamics of asteroids and comets.
  • California State University, Northridge, California: The mission of California State University Northridge Satellite is to test an innovative low temperature capable energy storage system in space developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena that will enable future missions, especially those in deep space to do more science while requiring less energy, mass and volume.
  • Capitol Technology University, Laurel, Maryland: The Coordinated Applied Capitol Technology University Satellite (CACTUS-1) is a technological demonstration of a cost-saving communications and commanding innovation. The payload will lower investment in communications and ground systems technology by licensing conventional internet satellite providers for low earth orbit use. The CubeSat’s aerogel-based Particle Capture and Measurement instrument is the first CubeSat-based orbital debris detector to be flown in low-Earth orbit.
  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado: The Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems – Demonstrator (TEMPEST-D) provides risk mitigation for the TEMPEST mission that will provide the first temporal observations of cloud and precipitation processes on a global scale. These observations are important to understand the linkages in and between Earth’s water and energy balance, as well as to improve our understanding of cloud model microphysical processes that are vital to climate change prediction.
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York: KickSat-2 is a CubeSat technology demonstration mission designed to demonstrate the deployment and operation of prototype Sprite “ChipSats” (femtosatellites). The Sprite is a tiny spacecraft that includes power, sensor and communication systems on a printed circuit board measuring 3.5 by 3.5 centimeters with a thickness of a few millimeters and a mass of a few grams. ChipSats could enable new kinds of science and exploration missions, as well as dramatically lower the cost of access to space.
  • Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana: A Satellite Demonstration of a Radiation Tolerant System, RadSat, is a technology demonstration of a new radiation tolerant computer system in a low-Earth orbit satellite mission to demonstrate a technology readiness level 9 of the technology.
  • NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Cleveland: The Advanced eLectrical Bus (ALBus) CubeSat is a technology demonstration mission of an advanced, digitally controlled electrical power system capability and novel use of shape memory alloy technology for reliable deployable solar array mechanisms. The goals of the mission are to demonstrate efficient battery charging in the orbital environment, 100 Watt distribution to a target electrical load, flexible power system distribution interfaces, adaptation of power system control on orbit and successful deployment of solar arrays and antennas using resettable shape memory alloy mechanisms.
  • NASA’s Independent Verification &Validation Program, Fairmont, West Virginia: In partnership with the University of West Virginia, the Simulation-to-Flight 1 (STF-1) mission will demonstrate the utility of the NASA Operational Simulator technologies across the CubeSat development cycle, from concept planning to mission operations. It will demonstrate a highly portable simulation and test platform that allows seamless transition of mission development artifacts to flight products.
  • Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio: The CubeSat mission to study Solar Particles over the Earth’s Poles (CuSPP) mission is space weather mission that will study the sources and acceleration mechanisms of solar and interplanetary particles near-Earth orbit. It will study magnetospheric ion precipitation in the high-latitude ionosphere.  It will increase the technology readiness level of a supra-thermal ion spectrograph concept so that it may fly with reduced risk and cost on future heliophysics missions.
  • University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida (2 CubeSats): The CubeSat Particle Aggregation and Collision Experiment (Cu-PACE) will perform a long-duration microgravity experiments in orbit to observe novel low-speed collisions in greater numbers than possible in ground-based, parabolic and suborbital flight experiments. SurfSat is a science investigation that will measure plasma-induced surface charging and electrostatic discharge measurements. It will take in-situ measurements of the ground current waveforms from chosen common spacecraft dielectric material samples, measure the spacecraft and material potentials and will use a Langmuir probe system to measure the ambient plasma environment.
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan (2 CubeSats)The Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment (MiTEE) will use CubeSat capabilities to deploy a picosatellite body of approximately 8 cm × 8 cm × 2 cm from a 3U CubeSat to demonstrate and assess an ultra-small satellite electrodynamics tether in the space environment where the fundamental dynamics and plasma electrodynamics. The miniature electrodynamics tethers, which are a few meters long, have the potential to provide propellantless propulsion, passive two-axis attitude stabilization and enhanced communication utility to the next generation of small satellites.  The Tandem Beacon Experiment (TBEx) will consist of a tandem pair of CubeSats, each carrying tri-frequency radio beacons, in near identical, low inclination orbits and a cluster of diagnostic sensors on five islands in the Central Pacific sector. The science objectives and goals of TBEx are to study how the dynamics and processes in the troposphere can act to cause variability in the behavior of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere.
  • University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota: The Open Prototype for Educational NanoSats (OPEN) mission aims to reduce mission risk and cost for universities, researchers and other spacecraft developers through the creation of an open-hardware/open-source software framework for CubeSat development. The designs use low-cost commercial off-the-shelf parts and easily-to-fabricate printed circuit boards that can be made using the budget of $5,000 in parts for a basic spacecraft.

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