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  • richardmitnick 2:51 pm on February 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , BurstCube, , , Cubesats, , ,   

    From Goddard: “NASA Technology to Help Locate Electromagnetic Counterparts of Gravitational Waves” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Feb. 6, 2018
    By Lori Keesey
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Principal Investigator Jeremy Perkins and his co-investigator, Georgia de Nolfo, recently won funding to build a new CubeSat mission, called BurstCube. Respectively, Perkins and de Nolfo hold a crystal, or scintillator, and silicon photomultiplier array technology that will be used to detect and localize gamma-ray bursts for gravitational-wave science. The photomultiplier array shown here specifically was developed for another CubeSat mission called TRYAD, which will investigate gamma-ray bursts in high-altitude lightning clouds.
    Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk

    A compact detector technology applicable to all types of cross-disciplinary scientific investigations has found a home on a new CubeSat mission designed to find the electromagnetic counterparts of events that generate gravitational waves.

    NASA scientist Georgia de Nolfo and her collaborator, astrophysicist Jeremy Perkins, recently received funding from the agency’s Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program to develop a CubeSat mission called BurstCube. This mission, which will carry the compact sensor technology that de Nolfo developed, will detect and localize gamma-ray bursts caused by the collapse of massive stars and mergers of orbiting neutron stars. It also will detect solar flares and other high-energy transients once it’s deployed into low-Earth orbit in the early 2020s.

    The cataclysmic deaths of massive stars and mergers of neutron stars are of special interest to scientists because they produce gravitational waves — literally, ripples in the fabric of space-time that radiate out in all directions, much like what happens when a stone is thrown into a pond.

    Since the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, confirmed their existence a couple years ago, LIGO and the European Virgo detectors have detected other events, including the first-ever detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two neutron stars announced in October 2017.

    Less than two seconds after LIGO detected the waves washing over Earth’s space-time, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected a weak burst of high-energy light — the first burst to be unambiguously connected to a gravitational-wave source.

    These detections have opened a new window on the universe, giving scientists a more complete view of these events that complements knowledge obtained through traditional observational techniques, which rely on detecting electromagnetic radiation — light — in all its forms.

    Complementary Capability

    Perkins and de Nolfo, both scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, see BurstCube as a companion to Fermi in this search for gravitational-wave sources. Though not as capable as the much larger Gamma-ray Burst Monitor, or GBM, on Fermi, BurstCube will increase coverage of the sky. Fermi-GBM observes the entire sky not blocked by the Earth. “But what happens if an event occurs and Fermi is on the other side of Earth, which is blocking its view,” Perkins said. “Fermi won’t see the burst.”

    BurstCube, which is expected to launch around the time additional ground-based LIGO-type observatories begin operations, will assist in detecting these fleeting, hard-to-capture high-energy photons and help determine where they originated. In addition to quickly reporting their locations to the ground so that other telescopes can find the event in other wavelengths and home in on its host galaxy, BurstCube’s other job is to study the sources themselves.

    Miniaturized Technology

    BurstCube will use the same detector technology as Fermi’s GBM; however, with important differences.

    Under the concept de Nolfo has advanced through Goddard’s Internal Research and Development program funding, the team will position four blocks of cesium-iodide crystals, operating as scintillators, in different orientations within the spacecraft. When an incoming gamma ray strikes one of the crystals, it will absorb the energy and luminesce, converting that energy into optical light.

    Four arrays of silicon photomultipliers and their associated read-out devices each sit behind the four crystals. The photomultipliers convert the light into an electrical pulse and then amplify this signal by creating an avalanche of electrons. This multiplying effect makes the detector far more sensitive to this faint and fleeting gamma rays.

    Unlike the photomultipliers on Fermi’s GBM, which are bulky and resemble old-fashioned television tubes, de Nolfo’s devices are made of silicon, a semiconductor material. “Compared with more conventional photomultiplier tubes, silicon photomultipliers significantly reduce mass, volume, power and cost,” Perkins said. “The combination of the crystals and new readout devices makes it possible to consider a compact, low-power instrument that is readily deployable on a CubeSat platform.”

    In another success for Goddard technology, the BurstCube team also has baselined the Dellingr 6U CubeSat bus that a small team of center scientists and engineers developed to show that CubeSat platforms could be more reliable and capable of gathering highly robust scientific data.

    “This is high-demand technology,” de Nolfo said. “There are applications everywhere.”

    For other Goddard technology news, go to https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/winter_2018_final_lowrez.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.

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  • richardmitnick 8:37 am on February 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cubesats, , GomX-4B   

    From ESA: “The size of a cereal box: ESA’s first satellite of 2018” 

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    European Space Agency

    2 February 2018

    GomX-4 pair
    Released 13/10/2016
    Copyright GomSpace
    ESA’s biggest small satellite yet: the GomX-4B six-unit CubeSat will demonstrate miniaturised technologies, preparing the way for future operational nanosatellite constellations.
    GomX-4B is double the size of ESA’s first technology CubeSat, GomX-3, which was released from the International Space Station in 2015.
    The contract with Danish CubeSat specialist GomSpace is supported through the In-Orbit Demonstration element of ESA’s General Support Technology Programme, focused on readying new products for space and the marketplace.
    GomX-4B will be launched and flown together with GomX-4A on 2 February 2018, designed by GomSpace for the Danish Ministry of Defence under a separate contract.
    The two CubeSats will stay linked through a new version of the software-defined radio demonstrated on GomX-3, while their separation on their shared orbit will be controlled up to a maximum 4500 km.
    Such intersatellite links will allow future CubeSat constellations to relay data quickly to users on the ground. The same radio system will also be used for rapid payload data downloads to Earth.

    ESA’s first mission of the year was launched today: GomX-4B is the Agency’s most advanced technology-tester yet, featuring a hyperspectral camera and tiny thrusters to manoeuvre thousands of kilometres from its near-twin to try out their radio link.

    These CubeSats are built around standard 10×10 cm units by GomSpace in Denmark. As ‘six-unit’ CubeSats they are as big as cereal boxes – but double the size of their predecessor GomX-3, released from the International Space Station in 2015.

    “ESA is harnessing CubeSats as a fast, cheap method of testing promising European technologies in orbit,” comments Roger Walker, heading ESA’s technology CubeSat efforts.

    “Unlike GomX-3, GomX-4B will change its orbit using cold-gas thrusters, opening up the prospect of rapidly deploying future constellations and maintaining their separations, and flying nanosatellites in formations to perform new types of measurements from space.”

    The pair was launched at 07:51 GMT (08:51 CET) from Jiuquan, China, piggybacking on a Long March 2D rocket carrying a Chinese satellite to detect electromagnetic disturbances that might offer early warnings of earthquakes.

    The focus of Denmark’s GomX-4A on imaging includes monitoring Arctic territory. It carries no thrusters but the agile GomX-4B will fly behind it, allowing the pair to test their radio link across various distances up to 4500 km.

    “While these two CubeSats are closely related, they have different goals – but by flying them together we all gain extra opportunities demonstrations in space,” adds Roger.

    Some four hours after launch, they flew over their mission control centre – GomSpace’s premises in Aalborg, Denmark – at which point their early operations could begin.

    “Just as in the case of a full-size mission, the two must be switched on and checked ahead of full operations.”

    GomX-4B’s work can then begin for ESA. It will also monitor the performance of off-the-shelf computer parts in the harsh space environment, and test a new startracker for Dutch CubeSat manufacturer ISIS.

    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 10:11 am on January 31, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Cubesats, Planet Labs   

    From NASA Spaceflight: “Planet Labs targets a search engine of the world” 

    NASA Spaceflight

    NASA Spaceflight

    January 29, 2018
    Michael Baylor

    No image caption or credit.

    With over 200 Earth observation satellites, Planet Labs now operates the largest satellite constellation in history. The San Francisco based startup’s first goal – called Mission 1 – was to image Earth’s entire landmass once per day. That milestone was reached in late 2017. Now, the company wants to turn their data into a search engine of the world via its next mission.

    Planet Labs was founded in 2010 by three former NASA engineers: Will Marshall, Robbie Schingler, and Chris Boshuizen. The goal of the company was to make “global change visible, accessible, and actionable.”

    In April 2013, Planet launched its first two satellites named Dove 1 and Dove 2. Dove 1 launched aboard the inaugural flight of Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket, and Dove 2 launched on a Soyuz 2.1a rocket.

    Illustration of the Dove-1 nanosatellite (image credit: Cosmogia)

    Ridesharing with other payloads has been a common strategy for Planet. To date, the company has flown only once on a dedicated mission. This represents a shift from the traditional method used by major satellite operators.

    For decades, operators have built large and expensive satellites – requiring launch contracts worth tens of millions. Planet, on the other hand, launches small and far less expensive payloads into orbit. Due to their small size, the satellites can fly as secondary payloads, significantly lowering costs.

    Additionally, Planet’s approach also reduces risk. Due to the expensive nature of traditional satellites, a failed mission can be catastrophic. However, Planet’s satellites are cheap and easy to manufacture – making it far less difficult to recover from a failure.

    On October 28th, 2014 an Orbital ATK Antares rocket exploded just seconds after liftoff. The rocket was carrying a Cygnus spacecraft full of cargo to resupply the International Space Station. Also onboard was a batch of 26 Dove satellites for Planet. No company in history had ever lost 26 satellites on a single mission.

    Following the mishap, Planet CEO Will Marshall explained how Planet places “more satellites in orbit than we require…so that if satellites fail in orbit we ensure continuity. Our eggs were not all in one basket.”

    Not long after, a SpaceX Falcon 9 failed mid-flight. It was carrying a Dragon spacecraft – also headed for the ISS. Eight Dove satellites were part of Dragon’s cargo.

    In total, an unprecedented 34 satellites had been lost in less than a year.

    Another advantage of Planet’s strategy is that they can leverage their more affordable model by regularly refreshing their hardware. The company has numerous launches booked each year, with new batches containing upgraded electronics. As a result, Planet maintains the latest technological advances in its satellites. Meanwhile, many traditional satellites are left with years-old hardware.

    Dove satellites. NASA.

    Looking into the future, Planet’s strategy of launching satellites will be aided by advances in the small satellite launch industry. Companies such as Rocket Lab, Vector Space Systems, Virgin Orbit, and Stratolaunch have systems under development designed to specifically place small payloads into orbit.

    For Planet, this means that it could fly as a primary payload, while also avoiding the traditional costs of a dedicated launch. Flying on a dedicated launch allows for several advantages including greater schedule certainty and delivery to a more specific orbit.

    Rocket Lab has already secured several launch contracts from Planet for flights on its Electron launch vehicle. While the Electron rocket is yet to begin regular commercial launches, it took a big step in that direction with a successful “Still Testing” launch on January 21st, 2018. The launch included a Dove satellite for Planet named “Dove Pioneer.”

    Planet’s constellation is composed of three types of satellites: Dove, RapidEye, and SkySat.

    Planet Labs fleet.

    Doves are 3U CubeSats which weigh 4-5 kilograms and are the size of a loaf of bread. Doves are typically launched in batches called “Flocks.” Each Dove contains an optical imagery system called a PlanetScope. PlanetScope is capable of capturing images with approximately three meter resolution. Today, there are nearly 180 Doves in orbit.

    Planet also has five RapidEye satellites in its constellation. RapidEye are capable of taking images with five meter resolution. The 150 kilogram satellites were added to the constellation when Planet acquired BlackBridge in 2015. Because the RapidEye satellites have been in orbit since 2009, by acquiring BlackBridge’s assets, Planet significantly increased the historical data available to its customers.

    Finally, Planet has 13 SkySats in orbit. The satellites were built by Terra Bella, which Planet acquired from Google last year. At the time of the purchase, there were 7 SkySats in orbit. Last October, Planet launched an additional six on a Minotaur C rocket. The 100 kilogram SkySats are capable of sub-meter resolution – making them the most powerful in the constellation. Customers can request to have these high-resolution satellites target their locations of interest.

    Planet’s constellation orbits Earth in either a sun-synchronous or polar orbit. This means that the satellites can be arranged in a line, rather than having to spread out across the entire planet. Due to the Earth’s rotation, the next satellite in the line will see a slightly different portion of Earth’s surface than the one before it. As Planet’s CEO Will Marshall explains, “It ends up being like a line scanner for the planet.”

    A visual of the satellites scanning the earth by Planet Labs.

    Planet achieved a major milestone in November 2017. For the first time, the satellites were capturing Earth’s entire landmass once per day. The milestone, which Planet calls “Mission 1,” has created an unprecedented amount of data for customers to utilize.

    The satellites are currently capturing over 1.4 million images a day. After the images are taken, they are stored on the satellite until it passes over a ground station.

    The imagery is being used in a wide variety of fields including agriculture, disaster relief, infrastructure, and deforestation.

    Additionally, a large portion of the data is available to the public. Users can visit Planet.com/explorer and explore some of the most up to date satellite imagery available.

    Planet’s next mission is to harness machine learning, as doing so will drastically improve the usefulness of its imagery.

    SkySat fleet as envisioned by Planet Labs.

    Marshall explains that machine learning will enable Planet to perform “object recognition on its imagery to enable users to query what is on the Earth (how many houses are there in Pakistan?) and [to] build customized information feeds (e.g. count the number of ships in the top 10 ports vs. time).”

    He goes on to add, “In short, Planet will index physical change on Earth the same way Google indexed the internet. Imagine the possibilities.”

    This new mission will be a key focus for the Planet as it looks to continue its momentum into 2018.

    Apart from software, there are also hardware improvements in store.

    Most notably, two high resolution SkySat satellites will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base as part of Spaceflight Industries’ SSO-A mission. The launch – targeted for no earlier than this summer – will also include another Flock of Dove satellites.

    See the full article here .

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    NASASpaceFlight.com, now in its eighth year of operations, is already the leading online news resource for everyone interested in space flight specific news, supplying our readership with the latest news, around the clock, with editors covering all the leading space faring nations.

    Breaking more exclusive space flight related news stories than any other site in its field, NASASpaceFlight.com is dedicated to expanding the public’s awareness and respect for the space flight industry, which in turn is reflected in the many thousands of space industry visitors to the site, ranging from NASA to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Space Alliance and commercial space flight arena.

    With a monthly readership of 500,000 visitors and growing, the site’s expansion has already seen articles being referenced and linked by major news networks such as MSNBC, CBS, The New York Times, Popular Science, but to name a few.

  • richardmitnick 12:30 pm on January 24, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Cubesats, , Lunar Meteoroid Impact Orbiter, Lunar Volatile and Mineralogy Mapping Orbiter   

    From ESA: “CubeSats for hunting secrets in lunar darkness” 

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    European Space Agency

    23 January 2018
    No writer credit

    Imagine sending a spacecraft the size of an airline cabin bag to the Moon – what would you have it do? ESA issued that challenge to European teams last year, and two winners have now been chosen.

    The Lunar Meteoroid Impact Orbiter, or Lumio for short, would circle over the far side of the Moon to detect bright impact flashes during the lunar night, mapping meteoroid bombardments as they occur.

    Lunar Meteoroid Impact Orbiter.

    The other, the Lunar Volatile and Mineralogy Mapping Orbiter, or VMMO, would focus on a permanently shadowed crater near the lunar south pole, searching out deposits of water ice and other volatiles of interest to future colonists, while also measuring lunar radiation.

    “It was a difficult process to select these final winners, because the high quality of all the concept studies we received – and especially our four semi-finalists,” explains Roger Walker, ESA’s technology CubeSat manager.

    European companies, universities and research centres teamed up to design lunar missions to fit within the low-cost CubeSat standard – built up from 10 cm- cubes.

    Roger adds: “The idea behind our lunar CubeSat competition was challenging – up until now CubeSats have operated solely within Earth orbit. However, opportunities should open up to piggyback to the Moon in the coming decade, with circumlunar flights of the NASA–ESA Orion spacecraft and planned commercial flights.”

    The two winners were chosen after final presentations within ESA’s advanced multimedia centre used to design all Agency missions. They now have the chance to work with ESA specialists on mission development during February and March.

    The impact-tracking Lumio is a single 12-unit CubeSat, conceived by a consortium including Politecnico di Milano; TU Delft, EPFL, S[&]T Norway, Leonardo-Finnmeccanica and the University of Arizona.

    Orbiting a special point in space, Lumio’s sophisticated optical camera would detect impacts on the Moon’s far side. Such near-side flashes are mapped by telescopes on Earth during the night, but the Moon’s other face is a blind spot.

    Away from the stray light of the terrestrial environment, very faint flashes should be detectable, improving our understanding of past and present meteoroid patterns across the Solar System. Such an observation system could also develop into a system offering early warning to future settlers.

    VMMO, developed by MPB Communications Inc, Surrey Space Centre, University of Winnipeg and Lens R&D, also adopts a 12-unit CubeSat design. Its miniaturised laser would probe its primary target of Shackleton Crater, adjacent to the South Pole, for measuring the abundance of water ice. The region inside the crater is in permanent darkness, allowing water molecules to condense and freeze there in the very cold conditions.

    Scanning a 10 m-wide path, VMMO would take around 260 days to build a high-resolution map of water ice inside the 20 km-diameter crater. Its laser would also beam high-bandwidth data back to Earth through an optical communications experiment.

    VMMO would also map lunar resources such as minerals as it overflew sunlit regions, as well as monitoring the distribution of ice and other volatiles across darkened areas to gain understanding of how condensates migrate across the surface during the two-week lunar night.

    A secondary radiation-detecting payload would build up a detailed model of the radiation environment for the benefit of follow-on mission hardware – as well as human explorers.

    “This competition – run through ESA’s SysNova Challenge scheme – has helped to bring together lunar and CubeSat specialists,” adds ESA’s Ian Carnelli. “This means Europe’s space sector should be more able to take advantages of such flight opportunities as they arise in future.”

    The runner-up missions were the radiation-analysing MoonCARE and the far-side radio astronomy CLE.

    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 3:41 pm on January 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Beta Pictoris star system, , Cubesats, , PicSat, PicSat is is one of the few CubeSats worldwide with an astrophysical science goal,   

    From ESOblog: “Combining the freedom of a CubeSat with the power of an ESO telescope” 

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    How ESO’s HARPS will help PicSat the CubeSat to unravel the mysteries of the Beta Pictoris star system.

    12 January 2018

    A shoebox-sized satellite called PicSat, developed in record time by a small team of scientists and engineers at the Paris Observatory in France, has just been launched into space to study the Beta Pictoris star system. PicSat will be assisted in its mission by the HARPS instrument on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, which will make follow-up observations to PicSat’s detections. This will be the first time that a small modular satellite — a CubeSat — and a ground-based telescope work together to address some of the mysteries of the Universe. We speak to Sylvestre Lacour, an astrophysicist and instrumentalist who leads the PicSat team, to find out more about this exciting project.


    Q. First of all, tell us a bit about why you chose to look at the Beta Pictoris star system.

    A. Having celebrated only roughly 23 million years of life, Beta Pictoris is a very young star, astronomically speaking. At about twice the mass and size of the Sun, and just 63.4 light years away, it is relatively easy to observe. Over the past decades, Beta Pictoris has been a popular target for astronomers studying the early stages of star and planet formation, with those astronomers often using ESO facilities. In 2008 a team of French astronomers discovered a giant gas planet orbiting Beta Pictoris. The planet, baptised Beta Pictoris b, has about seven times the mass of Jupiter and orbits its host star at around ten Astronomical Units (AU). The distance between Beta Pictoris and Beta Pictoris b is similar to that between the Sun and our neighbouring ringed planet, Saturn.

    Satellite and ground-based telescopic observations of Beta Pictoris revealed the presence of an outer, dusty, debris disk and an inner clear zone about the size of our Solar System. In 2008, infrared observations from ESO telescopes provided evidence for a giant planet.
    Credit: ESO/A.-M. Lagrange et al.

    A few years ago it became clear that from the viewpoint of the Earth, either Beta Pictoris b, or at least its Hill Sphere, will transit in front of Beta Pictoris. The Hill Sphere of a planet is its gravitational sphere of influence — the region around it that dominates the attraction of rings and moons. Observing a planetary transit would tell us more about the young planet, for example about its size and the chemical composition of its atmosphere. Observing a Hill Sphere transit could tell us about the properties of objects around Beta Pictoris b, for example, its moons or rings.

    Q. Sounds exciting! So what exactly happens during a transit?

    A. During a transit, the planet blocks the light from a small part of the star, diminishing the amount of starlight that reaches us. A telescope captures the light from the star, and a sensitive instrument called a photometer accurately measures the amount of light received. The main goal of PicSat will be exactly that — to monitor the brightness of Beta Pictoris continuously, so as to capture the little revealing dip in its lightcurve as the planet Beta Pictoris b, or its Hill Sphere, passes in front of it.

    A transit of Beta Pictoris b itself would take a few hours and would show a clear dip in the light curve. Because the reach of the Hill Sphere extends a very long way from the planet, a transit of only the Hill Sphere could take up to several months and could result in a more irregular light curve as several rings or moons pass by.

    A diagram showing the dip in brightness of a host star as it is transited by a planet. By measuring the amount of dip in brightness and knowing the size of the star, scientists can determine the size of the planet. Credit: NASA Ames

    Q. And why did you choose to build PicSat for this job? Couldn’t an existing ground-based telescope do exactly the same thing?

    A. So far it has only been possible to estimate an approximate time for the moment of transit — we believe that it should occur by summer 2018. Because of this uncertainty, we needed something that could continuously monitor the star system. Ground-based telescopes can only observe at night and are in high-demand — they are too busy to make continuous observations. So we decided that sending a satellite into space would be the only way to ensure that we capture this phenomenon. PicSat will orbit around the Earth from pole to pole, as the Earth rotates below it. This means that PicSat can always see to either side of the Earth without its view being blocked, allowing it to continuously observe Beta Pictoris.

    With a polar orbit, PicSat will pass over the poles of the Earth, constantly keeping an eagle eye on Beta Pictoris.
    Credit: NASA illustration by Robert Simmon

    The fully assembled PicSat, which consists of three cubic units stacked on top of each other.
    Credit: PicSat CubeSat

    When PicSat observes photometrically that a transit is taking place, we will use an online form to alert people working at the ESO 3.6-m telescope. As soon as possible after they have been alerted, they will use the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) instrument to make detailed spectroscopic observations. The photometric (measurement of the amount of light) and spectroscopic (measurement of the wavelength distribution of light) observations can then be combined to find out much more about the star system.

    Q. We’d love to hear a bit more about PicSat itself.

    A. PicSat, a contraction of Beta Pictoris and Satellite, is composed of three standard cubic units with side lengths of 10 cm. The project started in 2014 when I proposed using CubeSat technology to observe the predicted transit. I gathered a small local team and together we worked hard to design and build PicSat. It is incredible that in less than four years we have reached a stage where PicSat is being launched!

    One really cool thing about PicSat is that it is one of the few CubeSats worldwide with an astrophysical science goal, and is the first CubeSat aiming to provide answers in the challenging field of exoplanetary science.

    Q. You say that PicSat is made of three cubic units — do these units each have different roles in the operation of the satellite?

    A. Absolutely! The top and middle cubic units house the “science payloads”, whilst the bottom unit contains the onboard computer.

    More specifically, the top cubic unit of PicSat contains a small telescope. Thanks to the brightness of Beta Pictoris, the mirror of this telescope can have a diameter of just 5 cm.

    This telescope sends the light from Beta Pictoris down into the middle unit. Here, a tiny optical fibre, three micrometres in diameter (or about a fifth of the size of a thin human hair) collects the light and guides it onto a sensitive photodiode that accurately measures the arrival time of each individual photon. Because light will be guided by the tube-shaped fibre, unwanted light will be prevented from entering the photodiode. This allows for a very accurate measurement of the star’s brightness. Imagine looking through a tube — you are able to focus much more easily on a distant object than if you use just your unaided eye because the tube prevents peripheral light from entering your eye. Optical fibres are often used in ground-based telescopes, but this will be the first time an optical fibre is flown in space for astronomical observations.

    However, PicSat will wiggle and wobble a little as it orbits the Earth, so the accuracy with which it points at Beta Pictoris wouldn’t be good enough for the telescope to send all the light from the star into the small fibre all the time. We devised an innovative solution to this problem by connecting the optical fibre to a small plate, a “piezoelectric actuator”, that can track the star and immediately follow it to remain on target.

    A “naked” PicSat, with its cover removed so that its science payload is visible. The optical fibre is in the centre of the image.
    Credit: NASA illustration by Robert Simmon

    The bottom unit of PicSat contains the onboard computer for operating the satellite, communicating with Earth, raw pointing of the telescope and other important monitoring tasks. The whole satellite is clothed in solar panels that provide the satellite with energy, but it does not need a lot. In fact, the total power consumption of PicSat is about 5 watts, similar to a small light bulb!

    PicSat’s compact optical system collects the light from Beta Pictoris and the electronics track the star’s position. Inbuilt electronics include a precision stage for moving the optical fibre and a state-of-the-art photodiode.
    Credit: PicSat CubeSat

    Q. And what exactly will happen when PicSat observes a transit?

    A. If PicSat detects the beginning of a transit, whether it be Beta Pictoris b, its Hill Sphere, or any other transit like phenomena, ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope will immediately be put into action. Dr Flavien Kiefer from the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris will lead the ground-based observations and has guaranteed time using HARPS to support PicSat. He will be the one to respond quickly to our online alert.

    The ESO 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla. This telescope is mounted with the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), an instrument dedicated to the discovery of exoplanets. Credit: Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO

    Another exciting thing this project might address is that the Beta Pictoris system is rich in objects thought to be comet-like, which have often been observed spectroscopically by ESO telescopes. The presence of these objects has been inferred through the absorption lines of elements such as calcium, sodium and iron present in the object’s tails, which appear in the spectra and disappear again as they transit the star. However, a photometric detection of the dust in a cometary tail passing in front of Beta Pictoris has not yet been achieved. PicSat could well provide us with the first of these observations, which would confirm that these objects are indeed exocomets. If combined with an immediate follow up by HARPS, this would provide new and unique information about such comets and the system as a whole.

    Astrophysicist and PicSat team member Flavien Kiefer (Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, France) talks about the detection of exocomets in the Beta Pictoris system. Credit: PicSat CubeSat

    Q. And finally, I’m curious to know what could go wrong and how you would deal with any problems that might arise.

    A. As with any space mission, things can, of course, go wrong! This is the first time that our team (and in fact the LESIA lab!) has constructed an entire satellite, and with a small team, low budget and short time-scale, risks are higher than for conventional missions.

    We were most concerned about the launch, but that was a huge success this morning!! So the next stage is to cross our fingers that the automatic initiation sequence that will start PicSat works successfully. At the end of this sequence, antennas will deploy — critical for communication with the satellite. Antenna deployment and pointing at Beta Pictoris have been tested many times in the lab, so we are hopeful that they work in space as well.

    As for how we would deal with it, well that really depends on the problem! Fortunately, we have a varied and intuitive team and we believe can adapt to most situations.

    The PicSat satellite was successfully launched at 05:00 CET on Friday 12 January 2018. Follow the progress of the mission and find out more about the project at https://picsat.obspm.fr.


    PicSat website
    PicSat YouTube channel
    PicSat Flickr account
    PicSat Beta Pictoris Star System Info Sheet
    PicSat Twitter account

    See the full article here .

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    ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

    ESO LaSilla
    ESO/Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level.

    ESO Vista Telescope
    ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level.

    ESO/NTT at Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope at Cerro Paranal with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA on the Chajnantor plateau at 5,000 metres.

    ESO/E-ELT to be built at Cerro Armazones at 3,060 m.

    APEX Atacama Pathfinder 5,100 meters above sea level, at the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in the Atacama desert.

    Leiden MASCARA instrument, La Silla, located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

    Leiden MASCARA cabinet at ESO Cerro la Silla located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

    ESO Next Generation Transit Survey at Cerro Paranel, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    SPECULOOS four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes 2016 in the ESO Paranal Observatory, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO TAROT telescope at Paranal, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

  • richardmitnick 5:15 pm on December 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , CRAND-cosmic ray albedo neutron decay, CSSWE-Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment, CU Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Cubesats, , Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope, Mystery About Earth’s Van Allen Belts Solved by Researchers   

    From Edgy: “Mystery About Earth’s Van Allen Belts Solved by Researchers” 

    Edgy Labs


    December 28, 2017
    Chelle Ann Fuertes

    Researchers from Colorado have finally solved a decades-long mystery surrounding the Van Allen Belts.

    With the help of a tiny orbiting satellite, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder were able to shed light on the 60-year-old mystery shrouding Earth’s Van Allen belts. In a study published in the journal Nature, the team investigated the source of the energetic and potentially damaging electrons found in our planet’s inner radiation belt, near its inner edge.

    If you’re not familiar with it, the Van Allen Belts are two large belts of radiation surrounding Earth, a so-called area of energetic particles, and they are supposedly held in place by our planet’s magnetic field. Apparently, these belts protect us from some of space’s most dangerous radiation by trapping charged particles within its region.

    Through the years, space scientists studied these belts in an effort to answer some more complex questions about its existence such as what happens when particles from our sun hit the belts during a geomagnetic storm. Researchers admit that more work needs to be carried out as many previous observations of the belts were done only with electrons at a small range of energy levels.

    Uncovering the Van Allen Belts’ Source of Energetic Particles

    The study, led by Professor Xinlin Li of CU Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), was able to solve one of the many mysteries of the Van Allen belts: the source of its energetic and potentially harmful particles.

    The study indicates that the energetic electrons found in our planet’s inner radiation belt, particularly near the inner edge, originate from supernovae. It appears that during a process known as “cosmic ray albedo neutron decay” (CRAND), the cosmic rays from exploding stars entering Earth’s atmosphere collide with neutral atoms. These collisions form a so-called splash which in turn produces charged particles, including electrons, that are being kept in place by Earth’s magnetic fields.

    Evidence found for gamma rays by the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope

    NASA/Fermi LAT

    NASA/Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope

    “We are reporting the first direct detection of these energetic electrons near the inner edge of Earth’s radiation belt,” Li, a professor in CU-Boulder’s Aerospace Engineering Sciences department, said.

    It was said that soon after the discovery of the Van Allen belts in the late 1950s, both Russian and American scientists concluded that CRAND was most likely the reason behind the high-energy protons trapped in Earth’s magnetic field. However, no one was able to successfully detect the electron counterparts that should have been produced during the neutron decay process.

    Thanks to a CubeSat known as the Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE), the source of the once-undetectable energetic electrons were finally discovered. CubeSats are usually small satellites about the size of a loaf of bread.

    The CubeSat CSSWE before going into space orbit to observe the Van Allen belts | UC Boulder

    CSSWE in particular housed a small, energetic particle telescope, the Relativistic, Electron and Proton Telescope, used to measure the flux of solar energetic protons and Earth’s radiation belt electrons. It was launched in 2012 on an Atlas V rocket.

    “This is really a beautiful result and a big insight derived from a remarkably inexpensive student satellite, illustrating that good things can come in small packages,” Daniel Baker, co-author of the study, said. “It’s a major discovery that has been there all along, a demonstration that Yogi Berra was correct when he remarked ‘You can observe a lot just by looking.’”

    The discovery of the source of energetic electrons in the Van Allen belts is beneficial in creating better space suits and ships for future space missions.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:19 pm on December 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ASTERIA, , , , , Cubesats,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “JPL Deploys a CubeSat for Astronomy” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    December 7, 2017
    Andrew Good
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    JPL Deploys a CubeSat for Astronomy
    A JPL CubeSat named ASTERIA was deployed from the International Space Station on November 21. It will test the use of CubeSats for astronomy research. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Electrical Test Engineer Esha Murty (left) and Integration and Test Lead Cody Colley (right) prepare the ASTERIA spacecraft for mass properties measurements in April 2017 prior to spacecraft delivery. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Tiny satellites called CubeSats have attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Besides allowing researchers to test new technologies, their relative simplicity also offers hands-on training to early-career engineers.

    A CubeSat recently deployed from the International Space Station is a key example of their potential, experimenting with CubeSats applied to astronomy.

    For the next few months, a technology demonstration called ASTERIA (Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics) will test whether a CubeSat can perform precise measurements of change in a star’s light. This fluctuation is useful for a number of commercial and astrophysics applications, including the discovery and study of planets outside of our solar system, known as exoplanets.

    ASTERIA was developed under the Phaeton Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Phaeton was developed to provide early-career hires, under the guidance of experienced mentors, with the challenges of a flight project. ASTERIA is a collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; MIT’s Sara Seager is principal investigator on the project.

    A New Space Telescope Model

    ASTERIA relies on precision photometry, a field that measures the flux, or intensity, of an object’s light. To be useful to any scientist, a space telescope has to correct for internal sources of error while making these measurements.

    Engineers have learned to correct for “noise” in much larger space telescopes. If they were able to do the same for CubeSats, it could open an entirely new class of astronomy tools.

    “CubeSats offer a relatively inexpensive means to test new technologies,” said Amanda Donner of JPL, mission assurance manager for ASTERIA. “The modular design of CubeSats also makes them customizable, giving even a small group of researchers and students access to space.”

    She said it’s even possible for constellations of these CubeSats to work in concert, covering more of the cosmos at one time.

    A Steady Astronomy Camera

    Its small size requires ASTERIA to have unique engineering characteristics.

    A steady astronomy camera will keep the telescope locked on a specific star for up to 20 minutes continuously as the spacecraft orbits Earth.
    An active thermal control system will stabilize temperatures within the tiny telescope while in Earth’s shadow. This helps to minimize “noise” caused by shifting temperatures – essential when the measurement is trying to detect slight variations in the target star’s light.

    Both technologies proved challenging to miniaturize.

    “One of the biggest engineering challenges has been fitting the pointing and thermal control electronics into such a small package,” said JPL’s Matthew Smith, ASTERIA’s lead systems engineer and mission manager. “Typically, those components alone are larger than our entire spacecraft. Now that we’ve miniaturized the technology for ASTERIA, it can be applied to other CubeSats or small instruments.”

    Though it’s only a technology demonstration, ASTERIA might point the way to future CubeSats useful to astronomy.

    That’s impressive, especially considering it was effectively a training project: many team members only graduated from college within the last five years, Donner said.

    “We designed, built, tested and delivered ASTERIA, and now we’re flying it,” she said. “JPL takes the training approach of learning-by-doing seriously.”

    For more information about ASTERIA, visit:


    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 6:22 pm on December 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cubesats, , NASA has selected nine university teams to collaborate on the development and demonstration of new technologies and capabilities for small spacecraft   

    From NASA Ames: “NASA Selects University Partners for Small Spacecraft Collaboration” 

    NASA Ames Icon

    Dec. 4, 2017
    Editor: Loura Hall

    CSUNSat1, designed by California State University, Northridge in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was awarded Smallsat Technology Partnership funding in 2013. The 2U CubeSat deployed from the International Space Station in May 2017 and successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of JPL’s energy storage system that is targeted to help small spacecraft explore deep space in extremely cold temperatures. Credits: California State University, Northridge

    NASA has selected nine university teams to collaborate on the development and demonstration of new technologies and capabilities for small spacecraft. Beginning this winter, each university team will work with NASA engineers and scientists on two-year projects.

    These collaborations are directed toward making small spacecraft, some of which weigh only a few pounds, into powerful and affordable tools for science and exploration missions. This is the fourth round of projects selected under the Smallsat Technology Partnerships initiative, managed by the Small Spacecraft Technology program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

    “U.S. universities are great partners for space technology research and development and this may be especially true with small spacecraft,” said Chris Baker, the Small Spacecraft Technology program executive. “The ability for educational institutions to take technology from the laboratory to orbit with low cost small spacecraft provides an immense source of innovation and fresh perspective in the development of new space capabilities.”

    Proposals were requested in three topic areas: instrument technologies for small spacecraft; technologies that enable large swarms of small spacecraft; and technologies that enable deep space small spacecraft missions.

    The selected project teams will have the opportunity to establish a cooperative agreement with NASA, through which each university will be funded up to $200,000 per year. As part of the agreement, researchers and technologists from NASA’s centers across the country will collaborate in the project work.

    The following university teams were selected from a highly competitive pool of proposals:

    “Active Thermal Architecture for Cryogenic Optical Instruments,” Utah State University in Logan, collaborating with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California

    This award will develop a system-level thermal control solution for electro-optical instrumentation on 6U and larger CubeSats. Building on prior work, this current effort will produce a proto-flight unit thermal system with an additively manufactured deployable radiator, vibration isolation for the cooled detector, and the required mechanisms and elements for deploying the actively controlled radiator.

    “SPRINT: Scheduling Planning Routing Intersatellite Network Tool,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, collaborating with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley

    This award will develop a software tool that schedules satellite observations, intersatellite crosslink communications, and downlink activities to enable large constellations of hundreds of resource-constrained small satellites for scientific observation. At completion of the effort, the software will be delivered as a complete open-source package.

    “High SPecific-impulse Electrospray Explorer for Deep-space (HiSPEED),” Massachusetts Institute of Technology collaborating with JPL

    This award will address the current life limitations of developing a staged system that will eject degraded thruster heads, revealing new thruster heads beneath. The thruster heads are currently the life-limiting component of the system and staging multiple thruster heads may be a low-cost way to extend the life of the overall thruster.

    “Autonomous Nanosatellite Swarming using Radio Frequency and Optical Navigation,” Stanford University, California, collaborating with NASA’s Ames Research Center

    This effort integrates novel dynamics, guidance, navigation, and control algorithms to overcome current limitations for autonomous operations in the vicinity of near-Earth objects (NEOs). The algorithms developed will enable autonomous fuel-optimal operations for a swarm of spacecraft and onboard characterization of NEO shape, gravity, and dynamical properties while remaining compatible with commercial-off-the-shelf CubeSat systems.

    “Application of Machine-learning Algorithms for On-board Asteroid Shape Model Determination and Spacecraft Navigation,” University of Arizona in Tucson, collaborating with Michigan State University in East Lansing, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    This effort is designed to address challenges associated with navigation around asteroids and precision targeting of asteroid surface locations for sample collection by applying natural cognitive algorithms (commonly referred to as machine learning) to perform on-board image processing and shape model generation of asteroids.

    “Move to Talk, Talk to Move: Tightly Integrated Communication and Controls for Coordinated Swarms of Small Spacecraft,” Colorado School of Mines in Golden, collaborating with JPL

    This effort will develop and evaluate algorithms for dynamic spacecraft networking and network-aware coordination of dissimilar multi-spacecraft swarms and sub-swarm ensembles for distributed data collection around small-bodies or other targets of interest. An integrated prototype system using a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drones will be tested in an underground mine to evaluate the algorithms in a challenging wireless network environment.

    “Enabling Deep Space SmallSat Missions using Magnetoshell Aerocapture,” University of Washington in Seattle, collaborating with NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia

    This effort builds off of a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts study exploring a technology that can enable aerocapture and orbit insertion using magnetic fields and plasma instead of a physical decelerator. Magnetoshell aerocapture could be enabling for interplanetary small spacecraft missions where the size and weight constraints of low-cost small spacecraft can prohibit the carriage of sufficient propellant, physical aeroshell or other deceleration devices for orbital insertion, braking, or atmospheric entry.

    “Distributed Attitude Control and Maneuvering for Deep Space SmallSats,” Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, collaborating with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama

    This award will further develop a film-evaporation micro-scale thruster that uses water as a propellant for precision pointing and attitude control of small spacecraft and deployable structures.

    “Milli-Arcsecond (MAS) Imaging with Smallsat-Enabled Super-resolution,” University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, collaborating with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    This award will conduct laboratory testing of novel computational diffractive optical sensing and advanced image processing that makes use of small satellite formation flying to enable extremely high-resolution imaging capability that is otherwise unattainable with conventional approaches.

    “These partnerships between the university community and NASA help cultivate the rapid, agile and cost-conscious small spacecraft approaches that are evolving in the university community, as well as increase support to university efforts and foster a new generation of innovators for NASA and the nation.” said Jim Cockrell the Small Spacecraft Technology program chief technologist.

    Managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, the Small Spacecraft Technology program expands U.S. capability to execute unique and more affordable missions through rapid development and in-space demonstration of capabilities for small spacecraft that are applicable to exploration, science, and the commercial space sector. The program enables new mission architectures through the use of small spacecraft while seeking to expand the reach of small spacecraft to new destinations and challenging new environments.

    For more information about the Small Spacecraft Technology program, visit:


    For more information about NASA’s small satellite activities, visit:


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    Ames Research Center, one of 10 NASA field Centers, is located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. For over 60 years, Ames has led NASA in conducting world-class research and development. With 2500 employees and an annual budget of $900 million, Ames provides NASA with advancements in:
    Entry systems: Safely delivering spacecraft to Earth & other celestial bodies
    Supercomputing: Enabling NASA’s advanced modeling and simulation
    NextGen air transportation: Transforming the way we fly
    Airborne science: Examining our own world & beyond from the sky
    Low-cost missions: Enabling high value science to low Earth orbit & the moon
    Biology & astrobiology: Understanding life on Earth — and in space
    Exoplanets: Finding worlds beyond our own
    Autonomy & robotics: Complementing humans in space
    Lunar science: Rediscovering our moon
    Human factors: Advancing human-technology interaction for NASA missions
    Wind tunnels: Testing on the ground before you take to the sky

    NASA image

  • richardmitnick 10:33 am on November 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cubesats, , GomX-4A and GomX-4B,   

    From ESA: “ESA’s latest technology CubeSat cleared for launch site” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    23 November 2017
    No writer credit

    Testing CubeSat pair.

    GomX-4B, ESA’s latest and largest technology-testing CubeSat, will be launched from China early next year, together with the near-identical GomX-4A. The pair will test intersatellite communication links and propulsion while orbiting up to 4500 km apart.

    The cereal box-sized GomX-4B has been passed as ready to travel along with its twin from manufacturer GomSpace in Denmark in early December to begin launch preparations in China.

    “GomX-4B is scheduled to be launched on a Chinese Long March rocket on 1 February, along with GomX-4A, owned by the Danish Ministry of Defence,” says Roger Walker, heading ESA’s Technology CubeSat initiative.

    The majority of tests were made at GomSpace and other facilities in Denmark, apart from thermal–vacuum testing – ensuring that the CubeSats can withstand the hard vacuum and temperature extremes of low orbit – which took place at ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands.

    GomX-4B with GomX-4A
    Released 13/10/2016
    Copyright GomSpace
    ESA has signed a contract for its biggest small nanosatellite yet: GomX-4B will be a ‘6-unit’ CubeSat, intended to demonstrate miniaturised technologies, preparing the way for future operational nanosatellite constellations.
    GomX-4B is double the size of ESA’s first technology CubeSat, GomX-3, which was released from the International Space Station last year.
    The contract with Danish CubeSat specialist GomSpace is supported through the In-Orbit Demonstration element of ESA’s General Support Technology Programme, focused on readying new products for space and the marketplace.
    Aiming for flight in late 2017, GomX-4B will be launched and flown together with GomX-4A, designed by GomSpace for the Danish Ministry of Defence under a separate contract.
    The two CubeSats will stay linked through a new version of the software-defined radio system demonstrated on GomX-3, while their relative positions along their shared orbit is controlled up to a maximum 4500 km.
    Such intersatellite links will allow future CubeSat constellations to relay data quickly to users on the ground. The same radio system will also be used for rapid payload data downloads to Earth.
    Nanospace in Sweden are contributing the highly miniaturised cold-gas thrusters for controlling the orbit, allowing future CubeSat-based constellations to be deployed quickly after launch.
    Additional technology payloads include a compact hyperspectral imager called HyperScout, developed by Cosine Research in the Netherlands; a miniaturised startracker from Innovative Solutions In Space, also in the Netherlands; an inhouse ESA experiment to test components for radiation hardness; and an ADS-B antenna for aircraft tracking, developed from the GomSpace system tested on GomX-3.

    CubeSats are nanosatellites based on standardised 10×10 cm units. GomX-4B is a ‘6-unit’ CubeSat, double the size of its predecessor GomX-3, which was released from the International Space Station in 2015.

    Roger adds, “The two CubeSats will test intersatellite link technology, routing data from one satellite to the other, then down to the ground station. Part of the ground testing ensured they could indeed talk to each other and the actual ground station on an end-to-end basis.”

    Once released from the rocket, the CubeSats will first orient themselves to align their antennas. Then GomX-4B will gradually fly away from its counterpart, pausing at around 100 km intervals with their intersatellite links activated to see how well they work.

    Released 23/11/2017
    Copyright ESA/GomSpace
    ESA’s GomX-4B CubeSat will test intersatellite links and propulsive orbit control techniques for future constellation operations with twin GomX-4A, which is owned by the Danish Ministry of Defence under a separate contract.
    Both ‘6-unit’ CubeSats are being built and tested by Danish nanosatellite specialist GomSpace.
    A video shows a simulation of GomX-4B’s ‘launch and early operations phase’.
    This is the crucial stage when the nanosatellite is released from its launcher and initially tumbles through space – reproduced by hand here – before deploying its antennas to link up with controllers back on Earth.
    See GomX-4B’s vibration test – simulating the violent shaking of its rocket launch – here.

    Their separation will be controlled by new cold-gas propulsion on GomX-4B contributed by Sweden’s NanoSpace company, using highly miniaturised thrusters.

    They will maintain their links through flat, patch antennas and software-controlled radios at a maximum distance of some 4500 km – a limit being set by the operating concept of a minimum of 10 satellites equally spaced around the same orbital plane to form a future constellation.

    “As well as operating together, the two also have separate payloads,” says Roger. “GomX-4B is the first CubeSat to fly our new HyperScout hyperspectral imager, developed by cosine Research in the Netherlands through ESA’s General Support Technology Programme.

    “Hyperscout images Earth in 45 different spectral bands, gathering a wealth of environmental data – so much so, in fact, that the camera must perform its own processing to drastically reduce the amount needing to be sent back to the ground.”

    GomX-4B also carries a new small startracker for precise attitude determination developed by Innovative Solutions in Space in the Netherlands, an ESA test payload checking components’ susceptibility to space radiation, and a dedicated radio receiver to detect signals from worldwide air traffic.

    Magnetic cleaning
    Released 23/11/2017
    Copyright ESA/GomSpace
    Technology CubeSat GomX-4B undergoing ‘degaussing’ – reducing the magnetic fields of its component parts by applying an opposite magnetic field to it – at ESA’s Mobile Coil Facility at its technical centre in the Netherlands in June 2017. Such a magnetic cleaning procedure is needed to optimise the performance of the ‘magnetotorquers’ the nanosatellite will use for attitude control, with electromagnets reacting to Earth’s magnetic field.

    “Now the testing has been concluded, our main job is to keep the satellites’ batteries topped off, ahead of their transport to China,” concludes Roger. “Once they arrive, they will be checked and the propellant tanks filled.”

    The pair is flying as secondary payloads with China’s Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite, CSES-1, designed to detect precursor signals of earthquakes in Earth’s ionosphere, an electrically active outer layer of the atmosphere.

    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 5:06 pm on November 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Cubesats, D-Star One CubeSat, German Orbital Systems, iSky Technology   

    From Spaceflight Insider: “D-Star One small satellite undergoes final tests” 


    Spaceflight Insider

    November 5th, 2017
    Press Release

    D-Star One CubeSat. Photo Credit: German Orbital Systems


    German Orbital Systems and iSky Technology companies have completed the final tests of the D-Star One small satellite’s systems successfully and arranged its shipment to the launch site. The tests were performed to verify radio uplink and downlink, D-Star modules, and antenna deployment mechanism. After testing, the satellite was integrated into the flight CubeSat dispenser.

    D-Star One will be launched on November 28, 2017, from Vostochny launch site jointly with the Meteor-M №2-1 meteorological mission of the Russian State Space Corporation ROSCOSMOS.

    D-Star One will be the first private LEO communication CubeSat as well as the first German commercial CubeSat. The satellite was designed and built in cooperation with iSky Technology, a commercial partner from the Czech Republic. Among other payloads, D-Star One will host four communication modules with D-Star capability, two of which will be fully dedicated to the amateur radio community. Subsequent satellites will have enhanced capabilities and communication protocols to address larger potential customer groups, paving the way to a commercially sustainable CubeSat constellation.

    German Orbital Systems (http://www.orbitalsystems.de)

    German Orbital Systems is a Berlin-based space company. It was founded in 2014 by the former scientific staff of the Technical University of Berlin and is the first German company focused on the CubeSat market. The product portfolio includes subsystems and turn-key satellite missions, which consist of the ground-, space-, and launch segments. Since 2016, GOS has been responsible for the separation sequence as a part of ECM Space Technologies GmbH CubeSat dispensers.

    iSky Technology (http://www.iskytech.com)

    iSky Technology is a Czech space company established in 2016. The company is actively developing in the segment of strategic mission planning, space market analysis, and turn-key space solutions. iSky Technology develops conceptual solutions for businesses in the space industry: from mission design to launch, software development, and satellite operation on orbit. iSky Technology specializes in smallsat constellation projects and operates successfully in the North American, European, and Russian markets.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

    Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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