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  • richardmitnick 6:00 pm on June 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Cubesats, NORAD, QB50 mission a swarm of 36 small satellites, This is a great example of Australian engineering ingenuity and perseverance this time in space” said Mark Hoffman, , UNSW in thrilling rescue of ‘lost’ Aussie satellites, UNSW-EC0 satellite   

    From UNSW: “UNSW in thrilling rescue of ‘lost’ Aussie satellites” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    26 Jun 2017
    Wilson da Silva

    Two Australian satellites, feared lost after being deployed from the International Space Station, have been recovered by UNSW engineers after weeks of a fraught, and at times heart-stopping, recovery operation.

    The Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research team who saved two Aussie cubesats in space, next to the roof antenna with a model of UNSW-EC0 cubesat. Left to right: Cheryl Brown, William Andrew, Eamon Glennon, John Lam, Timothy Guo, Alexander Kroh, Elias Aboutanios and Joon Wayn Cheong. Photo: Grant Turner/UNSW

    Two Australian satellites, feared lost after being deployed from the International Space Station, have been recovered by a team led by UNSW engineers after weeks of a fraught – and at times heart-stopping – recovery operation.

    “It was like something out of Apollo 13,” said Elias Aboutanios, project leader for UNSW-EC0, the first Australian-built satellite in 15 years to go into space. “Our satellite was orbiting at 27,000 km/h almost 400km above our heads. We couldn’t see it, couldn’t inspect it, and had almost no data to work with. So we were busting our heads trying to figure out what could have gone wrong, and how to regain contact.”

    The UNSW ground control team, with help from ham radio operators and colleagues at the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Sydney, regained control of both cubesats last week.

    In all, three Australian research satellites – two built at UNSW – blasted off on 19 April from Cape Canaveral as part of the international QB50 mission, a swarm of 36 small satellites (known as ‘cubesats’) designed to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere.

    Three of the QB50 cubesats being deployed from the International Space Station.

    UNSW-EC0 was the first deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) on 25 May, followed by SuSAT, built by the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia. The next day, INSPIRE-2 followed, a project led by the University of Sydney and involving ANU and UNSW, the latter of whom built the satellite and integrated the University of Sydney’s scientific payload.

    Each of the QB50 cubesats is the size of a loaf of bread, weighing less than 2 kg, and will carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the thermosphere, a region between 200 and 380 km above Earth. This poorly-studied and usually inaccessible zone helps shield Earth from cosmic rays and solar radiation, and is vital for communications and weather formation.

    Within 30 minutes of deployment from the ISS, both UNSW-EC0 and INSPIRE-2 were meant to transmit a beacon. But no signal was detected from either by the ground teams at UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) or the ANU when the cubesats flew over Sydney, which they do twice a day.

    The ACSER team began to suspect the cubesats’ batteries might be to blame. In the nine months since both cubesats had been dispatched to Europe for testing, and eventually to the US for launch, they might have lost partial charge: enough that they were now unable to extend the antennas. With their antennas stowed, their beacons would now be too weak for the UNSW or ANU ground stations to detect.

    Joon Wayn Cheong, William Andrew and John Lam look through NORAD’s tracking reports of the QB50 satellites. Photo: Grant Turner/UNSW

    “If batteries were the issue, the satellites have solar panels and should have been able to recharge,” said Joon Wayn Cheong, a research associate at UNSW and technical lead for both cubesats. “But that would have taken just one or two orbits. Yet, after almost a week, we still heard nothing. Clearly, something else was wrong.”

    The engineers theorised that the satellites might be trapped in a vicious discharge/recharge loop: they didn’t have enough power to extend antennas, but could not recharge completely because they were repeatedly trying to deploy antennas and stabilise orientation, draining the batteries again and again. So the ACSER team wrote software commands telling the cubesats to power down and wait until being fully recharged before deploying antennas.

    But before the commands could be sent, the engineers needed to find more powerful transmitters that the satellites – operating with stowed antennas – could hear.

    Aboutanios, who is deputy director of ACSER, reached out to the Defence Department, Optus, the CSIRO and NASA, but no equipment was immediately available or could broadcast on the right frequencies. Meanwhile, Cheong, who has an amateur radio licence, contacted his worldwide network.

    That’s when Jan van Muijlwijk came to the rescue. The sound technician near Groningen, in the Netherlands, had access to the Dwingeloo radio telescope, a restored 25-metre dish from the 1950s that was once used for astronomy and is now run by amateur astronomers and ham radio enthusiasts.

    A NORAD map with the location of the international Space Station (left circle), and the QB50 constellation of 28 satellites (right) in orbit above Earth. Image: Elias Aboutanios/UNSW

    Problem was, van Muijlwijk could only help on weekends, which meant a tense wait. On the first attempt, on Saturday 10 June, the Dwingeloo dish detected a weak signal from INSPIRE-2, and immediately uplinked the new commands. But when the Dutchman pointed the dish at UNSW-EC0, there was only silence.

    On INSPIRE-2’s next orbital pass, at midnight on Sunday 11 June, a clear beacon was detected by the Dwingeloo dish in the Netherlands and by former UNSW engineer Barnaby Osborne now at the International Space University in France, and later by INSPIRE-2 team member Dimitrios Tsifakis at ANU, along with ham radio operators in Spain, the US and Australia.

    ACSER’s team at UNSW, who had managed the ground segment for the INSPIRE-2 project, were elated. But also stumped. Why was UNSW-EC0 still silent? Had they identified its problem, or was something else wrong? Had some other component failed? Would they ever be able to contact the satellite?

    Aboutanios, Cheong and their UNSW colleagues – Ben Southwell, William Andrew, John Lam, Luyang Li and Timothy Guo – regrouped to review what they knew, and work through more scenarios. They also looped in Osborne in France and Tsifakis in Canberra.

    Illustration of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat in orbit above Earth. Image: Jamie Tufrey/UNSW

    To find ‘Echo’ – as they now dubbed their satellite – the team had relied on positioning data from NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command), which tracks and catalogues objects orbiting Earth. The cubesats had been shot out of the ISS in threes, and NORAD had detected this. It had then waited for the three cubesats to drift apart enough that they could be tagged with their names and positions.

    But what if NORAD had mislabelled UNSW-EC0? Could they be listening for – and transmitting commands to – the wrong satellite?

    They went back through the NORAD data and identified the other two satellites deployed at the same time – Nanjing University’s NJUST-1 and University of Colorado’s Challenger – then asked van Muijlwijk to point his dish at the other two cubesats and listen for UNSW-EC0’s beacon from those instead.

    “As soon as the Dwingeloo dish pointed to what the NORAD data said was the Challenger cubesat, it detected a weak signal that was clearly from UNSW-EC0,” recounted Cheong. “So they fired off the reset commands. And on the very next orbital pass, they received a beautiful, clear signal from UNSW-EC0.”

    Aboutanios mused: “For more than three weeks, we were looking in the wrong part of the sky for our satellite – we couldn’t have known that. But the procedures we put in place, the scenarios we ran and the solutions we developed, they all paid off. You could say we succeeded by engineering the heck out of this.”

    Elias Aboutanios (foreground), Timothy Guo (standing) and Alexander Kroh (seated) search for the missing UNSW-EC0 cubesat. Photo: Grant Turner/UNSW

    “This is a great example of Australian engineering ingenuity and perseverance, this time in space,” said Mark Hoffman, Dean of Engineering at UNSW. “A focused, collaborative team worked the problem, utilised diverse skills and tools to develop solutions until they had it resolved. That, in a nutshell, is engineering excellence.”

    University of Sydney’s Iver Cairns, leader of INSPIRE-2 team, said it had been an agonising experience. “It was intensely frustrating, and surprising, to hear nothing from INSPIRE-2 or UNSW-EC0, since both are very robust satellites that passed their pre-flight tests with flying colours. But the recovery effort, led by our UNSW and ACSER colleagues, was a real international team effort, and something we should all be very proud of.”

    UNSW-EC0 and INSPIRE-2 now join the 20 other QB50 satellites successfully contacted so far. They were joined on Friday 23 June by another eight QB50 cubesats, launched into orbit by India’s Polar rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre north of Chennai.

    Of the 28 QB50 cubesats originally deployed from the ISS in May, eight have still not been heard from – including Australia’s third cubesat, SuSAT. “We’ve reached out to our colleagues in Adelaide to see if we can help,” added Aboutanios.

    The two recovered Australian satellites will now go through a long testing process leading to their commissioning. Later this year, they will join other active QB50 satellites in collecting scientific data.

    The three research cubesats are the first Australian satellites to go into space in 15 years; there have only been two before: Fedsat in 2002 and WRESAT in 1967.

    “We’ve got more hardware in space today than Australia’s had in its history,” said Andrew Dempster, director of ACSER and a member of the advisory council of the Space Industry Association of Australia. “The QB50 mission shows what we can do in Australia in the new world of ‘Space 2.0’, where the big expensive agency-driven satellites are being replaced by disruptive low-cost access to space.”

    The UNSW-EC0 cubesat being deployed from the ISS, floating above Earth near an aurora, and a video graphic of the thermosphere region.

    BACKGROUNDER: The goals, flight, deployment and instruments of the three Australian satellites.

    See the full article here .

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    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

  • richardmitnick 12:09 pm on May 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cubesats, , , UNSW-EC0   

    From UNSW: “Update: Australian satellite in orbit” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    26 May 2017
    Wilson da Silva

    The first Australian satellite in 15 years, UNSW-EC0, was successfully deployed from the International Space Station, and UNSW engineers are working to make contact when it next passes above Sydney.

    Photo: UNSW

    The first Australian satellite in 15 years, UNSW-EC0, was successfully deployed from the International Space Station, but the UNSW engineers who built it were unable to establish contact when it made its first pass above Sydney.

    However, engineers say there could be many reasons for the silence and they are not overly concerned.

    UNSW-EC0 was ejected from the station at 3:25pm AEST, and made its first pass over Sydney at 4:21pm AEST. Engineers at UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) were unable to pick up the signal it is meant to send to confirm the cubesat is operating as designed.

    “We’re not overly concerned yet,” said Elias Aboutanios, project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER. “We’re troubleshooting a number of scenarios for why we didn’t detect it, from checking our ground equipment to exploring the possibility that the batteries might have discharged. But at the moment, we just don’t know.”

    “If it is the batteries, the satellite has solar panels and will be able to recharge,” said Joon Wayn Cheong, a research associate at UNSW’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications and technical lead of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat. “But because it was deployed in the Earth’s shadow, we have to wait for it to make a few orbits before it has recharged, especially if it’s tumbling. So it could be 24 to 48 hours.”

    The International Space Station, or ISS, will make four more passes over Sydney on Friday 25 May, and the UNSW team of 15 researchers and students will again try to establish contact, and run a series of tests for scenarios to explain the lack of a signal.

    UNSW-EC0 is one of three Australian research satellites – two of them built at the UNSW – that blasted off just after on April 19 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its mission is to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere, study its atomic composition as well as test new robust computer chips and GPS devices developed at UNSW.

    In addition, its chassis is made entirely from 3D-printed thermoplastic, itself an experiment to test the reliability of using 3D-printing to manufacture satellites, making them cheaper and much more customisable.

    The cubesat is part of an international QB50 mission, a swarm of 36 small satellites – known as ‘cubesats’ and weighing about 1.3 kg each – that will carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the thermosphere, a region between 200 and 380 km above Earth. This poorly-studied and usually inaccessible zone of the atmosphere helps shield Earth from cosmic rays and solar radiation, and is vital for communications and weather formation.

    “These are the first Australian satellites to go into space in 15 years,” said Andrew Dempster, director of ACSER at UNSW, and a member of the advisory council of the Space Industry Association of Australia. “There have only been two before: Fedsat in 2002 and WRESAT in 1967. So we’ve got more hardware in space today than Australia’s had in its history.”

    UNSW-EC0 was deployed from the ISS from a Nanoracks launcher, a ‘cannon’ that eject cubesats at a height of 380 km (the same as the ISS), allowing them to drift down to a lower orbit where they can begin their measurements.

    “This zone of the atmosphere is poorly understood and really hard to measure,” said Aboutanios. “It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with Earth, influencing our weather, generating auroras and creating hazards that can affect power grids and communications.

    “So it’s really important we learn a lot more about it. The QB50 cubesats will probably tell us more than we’ve ever known about the thermosphere,” he added.

    QB50 is a collaboration of more than 50 universities and research institutes in 23 countries, headed by the von Karman Institute (VKI) in Belgium. “This is the very first international real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena,” said VKI’s Davide Masutti. “The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world.”

    See the full article for this material with links

    Here is one video

    See the full article here .

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    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

  • richardmitnick 3:09 pm on May 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Cubesats   

    From COSMOS: “CubeSats: exploring other planets on a budget” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc


    26 May 2017
    Cathal O’Connell

    Anthony Calvert
    Hitchhiking could be the new way to see the solar system. No towel required.
    Name: Mars Cube One (MarCO)
    Destination: Martian orbit
    Mission cost:
    (MarCO) US$13 million,
    (Insight) US$425 million
    Launch Date: 20 May 2018
    Mars Arrival: 26 November 2018
    Dimensions (while stowed): 36.6 x 24.3 x 4.6 x 11.8 cm.
    Mass: 14 kg

    Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.” – Douglas Adams

    Exploring the solar system is absurdly expensive. Even a single mission, such as NASA’s US$675 million InSight probe to Mars, scheduled to launch in May 2018, would eclipse the total science budget of most nations.

    NASA Mars Insight Lander

    But with tiny, hitchhiking satellites called CubeSats, there may finally be a way to explore other planets on a shoestring.

    Tagging along on that InSight mission will be two CubeSats – small, boxy satellites the size of a carry-on suitcase. Built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, these Mars Cube One (or MarCO) probes will be the first CubeSats to voyage to another planet. If they pull off their US$13 million mission – peanuts compared with any previous interplanetary mission – MarCO could lead to a shift in how we explore the solar system, even opening the doors to smaller nations to stake a claim. Space travel finally has an economy-class fare.

    CubeSats were originally designed as a training tool, so university students could design and build satellites in the timeline of a semester. The basic idea was to cram the instrumentation into a standard template: a cube with 10 cm sides.

    Almost 20 years on, more than 500 cubesats have been launched successfully into orbit, with another 600 launches planned for 2017 alone. CubeSats have turned into the great leveller of modern space exploration, achievable within the budget of schools, universities, or even crowdfunding campaigns.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:31 am on May 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Cubesats,   

    From EPFL: “Software developed at EPFL used to control a flotilla of satellites” 

    EPFL bloc

    École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

    © 2017 EPFL

    19.05.17 – This past week, 28 CubeSats were released from the International Space Station (ISS). Eight of them are running EPFL software that was originally developed for SwissCube.

    Code name: QB50. This refers to the European research program begun in early 2016 with the aim of launching 50 miniature satellites – CubeSats – into orbit around the Earth. Their mission: to observe and measure the thermosphere, which is the layer of the atmosphere from 100 to 600 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Research institutes and universities from 23 countries are involved in the project, and their attention was focused on the skies this past week: on Monday, the ISS began launching the CubeSats that they developed.

    (Ejection d’un CubeSat. © NASA)

    Seven years ago, EPFL sent the SwissCube into space. That was the first Swiss satellite, and it was designed and built by students. EPFL may not have a satellite on board this time around, but it is involved in the control systems of eight of the 28 satellites that entered orbit this past week. “We developed satellite control software for SwissCube – called simply Satellite Control System (SCS) – that is extremely lean and sturdy,” says Muriel Richard, from EPFL’s Space Engineering Center (eSpace). “Using a secure and automated process, SCS encodes the instructions that need to be sent to the satellite, transmits them when the satellite is flying over a base station and receives information back from the satellite.”

    Eight organizations from seven different countries – Turkey, Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, Spain, Ukraine and China – chose EPFL’s open-source software, which they adapted to their own needs. “This is extremely positive and a real boost for our work,” says Richard, who noted that SCS is also able to control larger satellites.

    EPFL’s software has been chosen for other ongoing projects as well. It will run CleanSpace One, a satellite that is being designed to de-orbit SwissCube so that it does not end up as more space debris. It will also control the first two prototypes of a planned constellation of 60 nanosatellites; the prototype launch, scheduled for next year, is being run by EPFL startup ELSE. These projects are helping to put EPFL at the center of a growing ecosystem of specialized space-related expertise.

    See the full article here .

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    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

  • richardmitnick 1:33 pm on May 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Blobs and Bubbles, Cubesats, Dellingr, GRIDS-Gridded Retarding Ion Drift Sensor, INMS-Goddard-developed Ion-Neutral Mass Spectrometer, , PetitSat-Plasma Enhancements in The Ionosphere-Thermosphere Satellite   

    From Goddard: “NASA Team Pursues Blobs and Bubbles with New PetitSat Mission” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    May 9, 2017
    Lori Keesey
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Figuring out how plasma bubbles and blobs affect one another and ultimately the transmission of communications, GPS, and radar signals in Earth’s ionosphere will be the job of a recently selected CubeSat mission.

    A team of NASA scientists and engineers, led by Jeffrey Klenzing and Sarah Jones, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, recently won NASA funding to build the Plasma Enhancements in The Ionosphere-Thermosphere Satellite. The mission, also known as petitSat, is a precursor to a possible Explorer-class mission and leverages several R&D-supported technologies, including the satellite bus itself.

    The Goddard-led petitSat team is basing its mission on a 6U CubeSat — Dellingr. Goddard engineers developed this small satellite to show that CubeSats could be both reliable and cost effective also while gathering compelling scientific data. The black-colored device at the top of the Dellingr 3-D model depicts the Ion-Neutral Mass Spectrometer that also is flying on petitSat.
    Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk

    When it launches from the International Space Station in 2021, the mission will study density irregularities in the mid and low-latitude ionosphere, which occupies a tiny fraction of the atmosphere and is basically an ionized layer coexisting with the thermosphere roughly 50 to 250 miles above Earth’s surface.

    The ionosphere is a plasma, an ionized gas consisting of positive ions and free electrons. It is important to long-distance radio communication because it reflects radio waves back to Earth. Consequently, any perturbations in the density of the plasma interfere with GPS and radar signals.

    These perturbations or irregularities come in the form of ionospheric depletions or bubbles, structures that contain fewer electrons, and enhancements or blobs that contain a greater number of electrons. “All these irregularities can distort the transmission of radio waves,” said Klenzing, the mission principal investigator.

    Blobs and Bubbles: A Different Story

    Previous studies of the blobs indicate that they can be the direct result of bubbles forming near the geomagnetic equator, Klenzing said. Other observations, however, tell a different story. The blobs can be observed in regions where bubbles do not extend and can form when bubbles do not.

    They suggest that multiple mechanisms are at play, including fast-traveling waves coming from the thermosphere, a warm neutral atmospheric layer where most of the ionosphere resides. In fact, these wave-like thermospheric structures create waves in the ionosphere through ion-neutral drag — a phenomenon called Medium-Scale Traveling Ionospheric Disturbances, or MSTIDs. The resulting MSTIDs create electric fields that can transport energy from the summer hemisphere to the winter hemisphere. It is thought that the observed plasma blobs are the consequence of these electric fields.

    “Our mission will investigate the link between these two phenomena — enhanced plasma density measurements, or blobs, and the wave action in the thermosphere,” Klenzing said.

    To find out, the team will fly two instruments: a version of the Goddard-developed Ion-Neutral Mass Spectrometer, or INMS — the world’s smallest mass spectrometer that has flown on ExoCube, a CubeSat mission sponsored by the National Science Foundation — and the Gridded Retarding Ion Drift Sensor, or GRIDS, provided by Utah State University and Virginia Tech.

    The mass spectrometer will measure the densities of a variety of particles in the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, observing how these densities change in response to daily and seasonal cycles. The university-provided instrument, meanwhile, will measure the distribution, motion, and velocity of ions.

    PetitSat is flying a version of the Goddard-developed Ion-Neutral Mass Spectrometer (left) and the university-provided Gridded Retarding Ion Drift Sensor. Credits: NASA

    Dellingr-Based Mission

    The team will integrate its instruments on a Dellingr-based spacecraft. A team of Goddard engineers specifically created this 6U CubeSat to demonstrate that that these tiny craft could be reliable and cost-effective also while delivering compelling science. Dellingr, which also carries the INMS, magnetometers, and other technologies, is expected to launch in August.

    Unlike Dellingr whose solar panels are mounted on the side of the spacecraft, petitSat will fly deployable solar arrays — an enhancement that will allow mission operators to more easily point the arrays to the sun to recharge batteries. It also will carry a more advanced star tracker, said Jones, the INMS principal investigator.

    When petitSat is deployed 249 miles above Earth — consistent with the International Space Station’s orbit — the resulting data will be compared with that gathered by other ground- and space-based assets, Klenzing said. “Through comparative analysis, we will bring closure to our key science question: what is the link between plasma enhancements and MSTIDs. We’ve studied bits and pieces, but we’ve never had a full complement of instruments.”

    For more technology news, go to https://gsfctechnology.gsfc.nasa.gov/newsletter/Current.pdf

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA/Goddard Campus

  • richardmitnick 1:19 pm on April 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cubesats, Microsatellite ‘Challenger’,   

    From U Colorado: “We Have Liftoff! Student-Built Satellite Launches from Cape Canaveral” 

    U Colorado

    University of Colorado Boulder

    April 18, 2017
    No writer credit

    Members of the Challenger team with the microsatellite before it left CU Boulder.

    A University of Colorado Boulder student-built microsatellite is on its way to the International Space Station.

    The satellite, named ‘Challenger’, had a successful lift off Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 9:11 AM MDT from Cape Canaveral. It is part of the European Union sponsored QB50 project to deploy a network of miniaturized satellites to study part of Earth’s atmosphere.


    The effort is being led by the von Karman Institute, located in Belgium, with this mission being the first of two launches that will take the network of satellites into orbit. The first rocket, built by Colorado-based United Launch Alliance, carrying 28 CubeSats, will soon dock with the International Space Station. CubeSats are fully functional miniaturized satellites that are about the size of a loaf of bread. They generally weigh less than three pounds each and use off-the-shelf electronic components. They are designed to facilitate access to space research at lower cost.

    This QB50 project represents a unique collaboration between universities and research institutes from 23 countries around the world. All of the satellites were designed and built by students. At CU Boulder, aerospace professor Scott Palo says 53 students took part in the construction of Challenger.

    “We are developing young engineers who have already been through the lifecycle of a satellite from concept to operation, but this is more than just a training program. We’re combining learning with valuable scientific measurements,” Palo says.

    The QB50 mission is the first attempt to use a constellation of CubeSats to provide multi-point measurements of the mid-lower thermosphere, an area of the atmosphere located between 125-250 miles in altitude (200-400 km). What we know about this area of the thermosphere is limited because it is difficult and risky to reach. It is too high in altitude to be measured by ground radar or small rockets and is too low for most satellites.

    “Data gathered from this mission will help us gain a better understanding of the relationship between Earth’s atmosphere and the Sun’s radiation,” says Andrew Dahir, the lead CU Boulder PhD student on the project.

    After deployment, the CubeSats will orbit around the Earth several times a day, taking a large number of measurements of the gaseous molecules and electrical properties of the thermosphere.

    “This project is the very first international real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena. The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world”, says Dr. Davide Masutti, QB50 project manager at the von Karman Institute.

    In addition to its scientific mission, Challenger also includes multiple personal touches. The satellite sports an engraved CU Boulder buffalo on an interior component, and contains a memorial to its namesake, the US Space Shuttle Challenger. CU Boulder aerospace graduate Ellison Onizuka (BS 69’, MS 69’) served as a mission specialist on the flight.

    See the full article here.

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    As the flagship university of the state of Colorado, CU-Boulder is a dynamic community of scholars and learners situated on one of the most spectacular college campuses in the country. As one of 34 U.S. public institutions belonging to the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) – and the only member in the Rocky Mountain region – we have a proud tradition of academic excellence, with five Nobel laureates and more than 50 members of prestigious academic academies.

    CU-Boulder has blossomed in size and quality since we opened our doors in 1877 – attracting superb faculty, staff, and students and building strong programs in the sciences, engineering, business, law, arts, humanities, education, music, and many other disciplines.

    Today, with our sights set on becoming the standard for the great comprehensive public research universities of the new century, we strive to serve the people of Colorado and to engage with the world through excellence in our teaching, research, creative work, and service.

  • richardmitnick 5:53 am on April 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cubesats,   

    From ESA: “CubeSats: from educational tools to autonomous space drones” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    31 March 2017
    Roger Walker, Technology CubeSat manager

    Un-named ESA cubesats

    e-st@r team clean their CubeSat before integration

    The technology-testing GomX-3 under construction. A ‘three-unit’ CubeSat, it measures 10x10x30 cm in size with an approximate mass of 3 kg, with payloads to detect signals from aircraft and telecom satellites. (Credit: davidgerhardt.com)

    CubeSats started as a tool for education. Profs Jordi Puig-Suari of California Polytechnic State University and Bob Twiggs of Stanford University wanted students to gain hands-on experience in designing, making and flying nanosatellites, but they needed to do it cheaply.

    That led them to the PC/104 computer standard, with rugged, stackable electronics boards with commercial components to fit within a 10x10x10 cm box (or unit). A container was developed as a standard interface for launch vehicles, with a spring-loaded ‘jack in a box’ deployment system to push out three CubeSats at a time into space. That in turn inspired the idea of a single 3-unit CubeSat, packing in added technology and a payload. The CubeSat standard was born. Within their budgets for the first time, many university engineering facilities worldwide then embraced the concept and gave the chance for students to build something to actually fly in space – how cool is that?

    ESA’s involvement with CubeSats started in 2006, when I was working at the Education Office. There was an opportunity to embark educational CubeSats on the maiden flight of our new Vega launcher. The agreement was signed with the Vega project in 2007, and that led in turn to the first European CubeSat symposium in early 2008. Vega launched seven separate 1-unit CubeSats in the end. Different European universities designed, manufactured and tested the CubeSats and we supported their engineering work, verified their suitability for flight and procured their deployment systems.

    The 2012 launch saw these CubeSats meet with mixed operational success – only two worked for a long period, three for a few weeks and contact was lost with a couple. But they were all successes in educational terms, of course. When universities make a CubeSat for the first time then there’s maybe a 50/50 chance of failure, but for second and third times it’s a lot lower. And the student teams responsible for those pioneer CubeSats formed spin-off companies after graduation.

    These companies have grown exponentially since then, employing dozens of people, manufacturing multiple CubeSats annually as the market has expanded greatly with not only universities, but also government agencies and commercial service start-ups now utilising them.

    ESA’s involvement with educational CubeSats continues to this day and this remains very important, but it was clear back then that CubeSats held wider potential – quick and cheap to develop and launch, they offer an ideal platform for demonstrating promising new technologies. So that’s my current role within TEC, bringing together technology companies and research institutes with CubeSat companies.

    We group payloads together synergistically so each technology CubeSat is more than the sum of its parts. For instance, GomX-3 – our first mission to fly – combined a receiver of ADS-B aircraft signals with a system to map signal quality from telecom satellites, 3-axis pointing control plus an X-band transmitter for rapid data download. Another CubeSat, QARMAN, is focused on reentry technologies and is scheduled to launch later this year. We have another four technology CubeSats in development currently.

    If our really big satellites resemble mainframe computers, and standard satellites are PCs, then CubeSats equal smartphones – highly compact and portable, integrating miniaturised sensors with powerful but low-power computer processors and software radios. Here on Earth, aerial drones are exploiting the same technologies as CubeSats and pushing the boundaries of autonomous flight systems, so I like to think that CubeSats have the potential to become the autonomous drones of space. For instance, we’re looking at similar concepts for CubeSats such as autonomous navigation, close proximity operations, swarm formations as well as on-orbit inspection and assembly techniques, the latter to build up larger structures from basic building blocks.

    And as well as flying in new ways, we want to fly CubeSats to new places –we’ve been looking into deep space missions, and are planning later this year to invite concepts for lunar CubeSats in support of exploration objectives.

    I’m continually impressed by the sheer creativity involved in miniaturising systems to put them in these small boxes – instruments, propulsion systems, radios… European industry and research labs are pushing ahead rapidly with developing new products and we are helping them to get those products into orbit as quickly as possible, so they can maintain a competitive edge.

    Each technology CubeSat project is managed to a standard engineering and product/quality assurance approach with a tailored version of the ECSS standards for CubeSats, focussed on managing risks and maximising probability of mission success within the limited financial budgets. Along with access to the Agency’s technical expertise and facilities, this allows us to offer significant added value to Member States funding these small innovative missions within our Technology Programme.

    See the full article here .

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 3:12 pm on March 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cubesats, From NASA: "NASA Embraces Small Satellites" Video and text,   

    From NASA: “NASA Embraces Small Satellites” Video and text 

    NASA image

    Access mp4 video here .

    The earliest satellites of the Space Age were small. Sputnik, for instance, weighed just 184.3 lbs. America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, was even smaller at only about 30 lbs.

    Over time, satellites grew to accommodate more sensors with greater capabilities, but thanks to miniaturization and new technology capabilities, small is back in vogue.

    NASA is one of many government agencies, universities, and commercial organizations embracing small satellite designs, from tiny CubeSats to micro-satellites. A basic CubeSat has 4 inch sides and weighs just a few pounds!

    A CubeSat can be put into place a number of different ways. It can be a hitchhiker, flying to space onboard a rocket whose main purpose is to launch a full-sized satellite. Or it can be put into orbit from the International Space Station. Astronauts recently used this technique when they deployed the Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS), a CubeSat that studies solar flares.

    On Feb. 2, 2016, NASA announced which CubeSats will fly on the inaugural flight of the agency’s Space Launch System in late 2018. CubeSats are small satellites, about the size of a cereal box, which provide an inexpensive way to access space. This file photo shows a set of NanoRacks CubeSats in space after their deployment in 2014.
    Credits: NASA

    In 2018, NASA plans to launch the CubeSat to study Solar Particles (CuSP). It will hitch a ride out of Earth orbit during an uncrewed test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System.

    CuSP could serve as a small “space weather buoy.”

    Eric Christian, CuSP’s lead scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland says, “Right now, with our current fleet of large satellites, it’s like we’re trying to understand weather for the entire Pacific Ocean with just a handful of weather stations. We need to collect data from more locations.”

    For certain areas of science, having a larger number of less expensive missions will provide a powerful opportunity to really understand a given environment. Christian says, “If you had, say, 20 CubeSats in different orbits, you could really start to understand the space environment in three dimensions.”

    NASA scientists are taking this approach of using a constellation of sensors to probe the details of a large area with a number of recently launched and upcoming missions.

    The Cyclone Global Navigation Satallite System, or CYGNSS, launched in December 2016. CYGNSS uses eight micro-satellites to measure ocean surface winds in and near the eyes of tropical cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes to learn about their rapid intensification. These micro-satellites each weigh about 65 lbs, larger than a CubeSat but still very small compared to traditional satellite designs.

    Additionally, the first four selections from the In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) program recently began launching. The goal of the InVEST program is to validate new technologies in space prior to use in a science mission.

    RAVAN, the first of the InVEST CubeSats, was launched in November 2016 to demonstrate a new way to measure radiation reflected by Earth. The next three InVEST missions to launch, HARP, IceCube, and MiRaTA, will demonstrate technologies that may pave the way for future satellites to measure clouds and aerosols suspended in Earth’s atmosphere, probe the role of icy clouds in climate change, and collect atmospheric temperature, water vapor, and cloud ice data through remote sensing, respectively.

    NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is looking to develop scientific CubeSats that cut across all NASA Science through the SMD CubeSat Initiative Program.

    Andrea Martin, communications specialist for NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office, believes this is just the beginning. She says, “CubeSats could be flown in formation, known as constellations, with quick revisit times to better capture the dynamic processes of Earth. Multiple CubeSats can also take complementary measurements unachievable by a single larger mission.” She envisions big things ahead for these little satellites.

    For more news about CubeSats and other cutting edge technologies both big and small, stay tuned to science.nasa.gov.

    See the full article here .

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    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 2:38 pm on March 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cubesats, NANOSwarm,   

    From Universe Today: “Are You Ready For The NanoSWARM?” 


    Universe Today

    CubeSats NODes 1 & 2 and STMSat-1 are deployed from the International Space Station during Expedition 47. Image: NASA

    14 Mar , 2017
    Evan Gough

    We’re accustomed to the ‘large craft’ approach to exploring our Solar System. Probes like the Voyagers, the Mariners, and the Pioneers have written their place in the history of space exploration. Missions like Cassini and Juno are carrying on that work. But advances in technology mean that Nanosats and Cubesats might write the next chapter in the exploration of our Solar System.

    Nanosats and Cubesats are different than the probes of the past. They’re much smaller and cheaper, and they offer some flexibility in our approach to exploring the Solar System. A Nanosat is defined as a satellite with a mass between 1 and 10 kg. A CubeSat is made up of multiple cubes of roughly 10cm³ (10cm x 10cm x 11.35cm). Together, they hold the promise of rapidly expanding our understanding of the Solar System in a much more flexible way.

    A cubesat structure, made by ClydeSpace, 1U in size. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Svobodat

    NASA has been working on smaller satellites for a few years, and the work is starting to bear some serious fruit. A group of scientists at JPL predicts that by 2020 there will be 10 deep space CubeSats exploring our Solar System, and by 2030 there will be 100 of them. NASA, as usual, is developing NanoSat and CubeSat technologies, but so are private companies like Scotland’s Clyde Space.

    INSPIRE and MarCO

    NASA has built 2 Interplanetary NanoSpacecraft Pathfinder In Relevant Environment (INSPIRE) CubeSats to be launched in 2017. They will demonstrate what NASA calls the “revolutionary capability of deep space CubeSats.” They’ll be placed in earth-escape orbit to show that they can withstand the rigors of space, and can operate, navigate, and communicate effectively.

    Following in INSPIRE’s footsteps will be the Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats. MarCO will demonstrate one of the most attractive aspects of CubeSats and NanoSats: their ability to hitch a ride with larger missions and to augment the capabilities of those missions.

    In 2018, NASA plans to send a stationary lander to Mars, called Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). The MarCO CubeSats will be along for the ride, and will act as communications relays, though they aren’t needed for mission success. They will be the first CubeSats to be sent into deep space.

    So what are some specific targets for this new class of small probes? The applications for NanoSats and CubeSats are abundant.

    Other NanoSat and CubeSat Missions

    NASA’s Europa Clipper Mission, planned for the 2020’s, will likely have CubeSats along for the ride as it scrutinizes Europa for conditions favorable for life. NASA has contracted 10 academic institutes to study CubeSats that would allow the mission to get closer to Europa’s frozen surface.

    The ESA’s AIM asteroid probe will launch in 2020 to study a binary asteroid system called the Didymos system. AIM will consist of the main spacecraft, a small lander, and at least two CubeSats. The CubeSats will act as part of a deep space communications network.

    ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission is joined by two triple-unit CubeSats to observe the impact of the NASA-led Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) probe with the secondary Didymos asteroid, planned for late 2022. Image: ESA

    The challenging environment of Venus is also another world where CubeSats and NanoSats can play a prominent role. Many missions make use of a gravity assist from Venus as they head to their main objective. The small size of NanoSats means that one or more of them could be released at Venus. The thick atmosphere at Venus gives us a chance to demonstrate aerocapture and to place NanoSats in orbit around our neighbor planet. These NanoSats could take study the Venusian atmosphere and send the results back to Earth.


    But the proposed NanoSWARM might be the most effective demonstration of the power of NanoSats yet. The NanoSWARM mission would have a fleet of small satellites sent to the Moon with a specific set of objectives. Unlike other missions, where NanoSats and CubeSats would be part of a mission centered around larger payloads, NanoSWARM would be only small satellites.

    NanoSWARM is a forward thinking mission that is so far only a concept. It would be a fleet of CubeSats orbiting the Moon and addressing questions around planetary magnetism, surface water on airless bodies, space weathering, and the physics of small-scale magnetospheres. NanoSWARM would target features on the Moon called “swirls“, which are high-albedo features correlated with strong magnetic fields and low surficial water. NanoSWARM CubeSats will make the first near-surface measurements of solar wind flux and magnetic fields at swirls.

    This is an image of the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
    Credits: NASA LRO WAC science team

    NanoSWARM would have a mission architecture referred to as “mother with many children.” The mother ship would release two sets of CubeSats. One set would be released with impact trajectories and would gather data on magnetism and proton fluxes right up until impact. A second set would orbit the Moon to measure neutron fluxes. NanoSWARM’s results would tell us a lot about the geophysics, volatile distribution, and plasma physics of other bodies, including terrestrial planets and asteroids.

    Space enthusiasts know that the Voyager probes had less computing power than our mobile phones. It’s common knowledge that our electronics are getting smaller and smaller. We’re also getting better at all the other technologies necessary for CubeSats and NanoSats, like batteries, solar arrays, and electrospray thrusters. As this trend continues, expect nanosatellites and cubesats to play a larger and more prominent role in space exploration.

    And get ready for the NanoSTORM.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:44 pm on January 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Algeria, AlSat Nano, , , Cubesats,   

    From UK Space: “First colour image for joint UK and Algerian CubeSat” 

    UK Space Agency

    UK Space Agency

    9 January 2017

    AlSat Nano, a UK-Algeria CubeSat mission, has captured its first full colour image following its launch in September 2016.


    Image taken from space of the Arkhangelsk Oblast region, on the North West coast of Russia. Credit: Alsat Nano mission, Open University, December 2016.

    The image was taken by the Open University C3D2 instrument’s wide field camera on 3rd December, 2016, over the Arkhangelsk Oblast region, on the North West coast of Russia. It was captured under twilight conditions at dawn, showing the coastline to the right, and a brief winter sunrise over the arctic region with a deep red-brown hue. Through the cloud cover there is evidence of hills and snow on mountains, and mist in the river valleys. The object in the foreground is the Oxford Space Systems Ltd AstroTubeTM Boom payload, also carried on board the spacecraft.

    This marks an important milestone for the mission as all core payloads have now been commissioned successfully, paving the way for further scientific and commercial exploitation.

    Dr Chris Castelli, UK Space Agency Director of Programmes said:

    “Successfully delivering this joint UK-Algeria mission from payload selection to launch readiness in 18 months is a great achievement from all programme partners. As this latest image demonstrates, mission operations are going from strength to strength, validating cutting edge UK space technology and our open approach to working with international partners.”

    AlSat Nano is Algeria’s first CubeSat mission and shows the capability of UK technology in partnership with industry and academia. With a spacecraft the size of a shoebox yet featuring all the core subsystems of much larger satellites, the programme demonstrates how CubeSats can be assembled quickly and launched at a fraction of the cost. This will help Algeria strengthen its domestic space technology capability by giving their scientists and engineers first-hand experience of spacecraft operations.

    Alsat Nano image overlayed on Google Maps. Credit: Alsat Nano mission, Open University, December 2016. Map credit: Google Maps.

    Dr Abdewahab Chikouche, Director of Space Programmes at Algerian Space Agency, said:

    “The Alsat-1N project is a concrete example of the success of our cooperation with UKSA. This project, very enriching from the scientific and technological point of view, allowed ASAL engineers to progress in the integration and testing of nanosatellites and acquire autonomy in its operation. This project will enable Algerian researchers and academics to strengthen national capabilities in advanced space technology.”

    Approximately half of the spacecraft’s volume was made available as part of an open call to the UK CubeSat community as a free flight opportunity for self-funded payloads. AlSat Nano stuck to a tight development schedule, with less than 18 months between payload selection and flight readiness.

    Prof Guglielmo Aglietti, Director of Surrey Space Centre said:

    “AlSat Nano has been an exciting project for the Surrey Space Centre to be leading. Educational and research elements, and the technology knowledge transfer with the Algerian Space Agency were key parts of this project. Additionally, the development of this nanosatellite platform has been a great opportunity to work with UK payload providers, who are demonstrating some exciting new technologies.”

    AlSat Nano is a joint nanosatellite mission between the UK Space Agency and Algerian Space Agency (ASAL) as part of an on-going initiative to enhance collaboration. UK Space Agency has funded the design, build and verification of the spacecraft at Surrey Space Centre (SSC), University of Surrey, as a hands-on learning exercise for Algerian postgrad students to demonstrate the practical elements of low cost space technology. ASAL has provided the launch, and operations are being undertaken in Algeria by ASAL operators trained at SSC.

    The three selected payloads on AlSat Nano are:


    A highly customisable CubeSat camera suite offering three fields of view and innovative on-board software processing capabilities. The payload is also a remote experiment of the OpenSTEM Labs – a suite of remote experiments that supports distance learning students studying science and engineering. C3D2 will offer these students the chance to operate a real payload on an orbiting spacecraft. The payload development is led by the Open University Centre for Electronic Imaging with sensor hardware provided by e2v Ltd and electronics from XCAM Ltd.

    Thin Film Solar Cell

    A novel solar cell structure which is directly layered on cover glass just 1/10th of a millimetre thick. Effects from the space environment will be measured, with the aim of allowing the organisations involved a route to product development and commercial exploitation of this technology. This project is led by the Swansea University Centre for Solar Energy Research with contributions from the University of Surrey, Qioptiq Ltd and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

    AstroTube Boom

    A retractable CubeSat-compatible boom which should be able to deploy up to 1.5 metres in length from a volume around the size of a business card holder. This technology would enable CubeSats to carry out a greater range of science experiments that require sensors to be held as far away from the spacecraft as possible to reduce interference, and could also form the basis of de-orbit systems for future missions. The payload also carries a magnetometer, one of the most compact of its class, to carry out measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field, and RadFET radiation monitors. The payload is led by Oxford Space Systems Ltd, collaborating with partners including the Science and Technology Facilities Councils RAL Space and Bartington Instruments Ltd.

    See the full article here .

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