Four Student CubeSats to Launch on Atlas V

An engineer works on the FIREBIRD CubeSat. (Courtesy of NASA)
A student engineer works on the FIREBIRD CubeSat. (Courtesy of NASA)

With help from NASA, four student-built CubeSat research satellites will launch into space Friday from the California coast as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative.

The CubeSats will be included as auxiliary payloads aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 2:13 a.m. EST carrying the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-39 satellite. The CubeSats are a part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) II mission, NASA’s fifth ELaNa mission to launch into space. The miniature satellites will deploy from their protective cases into Earth orbit about three hours after liftoff.

“This was another great moment for the ELaNa mission and the CubeSat community,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division, which oversees the CubeSat Launch Initiative. “With each successful mission, we are demonstrating that frequent access to space provides a great opportunity for NASA to gain engineering results at a low cost while affording students real-world exposure to spaceflight.”

The CubeSats were prepared by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and students at Medgar Evers College at the City University of New York; Montana State University in Bozeman; and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites. The cube-shaped satellites measure about 4 inches on each side, have a volume of about 1 quart and weigh less than 3 pounds. CubeSat research addresses science, exploration, technology development, education or space missions. Over the next few months, the ELaNa II CubeSat teams will receive data from their satellites in space. As part of their agreement with NASA, they will provide the agency a report on their outcomes and scientific findings.

ELaNa missions, conducted under NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, give students, teachers and faculty hands-on experience developing flight hardware by providing access to a low-cost avenue for research. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to do something like this while in college,” said CUNYSAT-1 System Engineer Ernst Etienne. “This has been a great experience for me since I’ve been able to learn so much about system engineering in general and applying that to work on the CubeSat.”

Since its inception in 2010, the CubeSat Launch Initiative has selected more than 90 CubeSats from primarily educational and government institutions around the United States. NASA chose these miniature satellites from respondents to public announcements for the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. NASA will announce another call for proposals in August 2014.

ELaNa II CubSats

Medgar Evers College – Brooklyn, N.Y.
City University of New York (CUNY)

CUNYSAT-1’s mission is to provide faculty and students with hands-on flight development experience. The mission includes investigating ionospheric disturbances. By measuring GPS signal changes, CUNY scientists can determine disturbances of the ionospheric charge densities. CUNY students will be monitoring satellite spin and battery and solar panel efficiencies.

Intelligent Payload Experiment

IPEX is a mission to validate various intelligent payload module (IPM) technologies including autonomous onboard instrument processing, downlink operations, and automated ground operations. IPM capability is currently baselined for JPL’s Hyperspectral Infrared Imager Decadal Survey mission that will study the world’s ecosystems.

Multipurpose Mini-satellite
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Mich.

M-Cubed-2’s mission is to obtain mid-resolution color imagery of Earth’s surface and to carry the JPL/Caltech-developed CubeSat On-board processing Validation Experiment (COVE). COVE will advance technology required for real-time, high-data-rate instrument processing relevant to future Earth science missions. M-Cubed-2 is a re-flight after the original M-Cubed unintentionally became attached to another CubeSat shortly after launch, losing the ability to transmit in the process.

Montana State University – Bozeman, Mont.
University of New Hampshire – Durham, N.H.

Focused Investigations of Relativistic Electron Burst, Intensity, Range, and Dynamics’s (FIREBIRD) mission is to provide insight into acceleration and loss processes in the outer Van Allen Radiation Belt and to provide hands-on opportunities for undergraduate and graduate stu dents to develop flight hardware.




NASA will launch four small research satellites, or CubeSats, for three universities and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., as part of the fifth installment of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) mission. Over 100 students have been involved in building the CubeSats that will be flown as auxiliary payloads on the National Reconnaissance Office’s launch of its NROL-39 mission planned for December 2013.

The ELaNa CubeSat Launch Initiative enables students, teachers and faculty to obtain hands-on flight hardware development experience and gives them access to a low-cost vehicle to conduct research in the areas of science, exploration, technology development, education or space missions. Since its inception in 2010, the initiative has selected more than 90 CubeSats from primarily educational and government institutions around the U.S. These miniature satellites resulted in a prioritized queue established through a shortlisting process from proposers that responded to public announcements on NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. NASA will announce another call for proposals in mid-August 2014.


Four CubeSat projects were selected for the ELaNa II mission. There will be two Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployers (P-PODs) aboard the Atlas V rocket that will ferry them to space. The P-POD was designed and manufactured by the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) of San Luis Obispo, Calif., to integrate CubeSats onto launch vehicles. After the main payload deploys, the CubeSats will separate from their P-PODs. After 45 minutes in orbit, the CubeSat transmitters will turn on and university ground stations will listen for their beacons, determine their small satellites’ functionality and announce operational status. CubeSat mission durations and orbital life vary, but are anticipated to last at least 180 days. Upon mission completion, the CubeSats fall to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere.


Each CubeSat developer verified that its satellite complied with the P-POD requirements. NASA jointly conducted a mission readiness review with each CubeSat developer.


basic_cubesat_designBasic CubeSat Facts:

  • Built to standard dimensions of 1 unit (1U) which is equal to 10x10x10 cm
  • Can be 1U, 2U, 3U or 6U in size
  • Weigh less than 11/3 kg (3 lbs) per U – 6U may be up to 12-14 kg
  • Deployed from standard Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer (P-POD)

For additional information about NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative program, visit:

  • lars0

    Doug, you have the wrong photos for the Cuny sats. Those are Firebird(s) 1-A and 1-B.

    Here are pictures of the cuny-sats:

  • Douglas Messier

    Strange. I took this material right off the NASA fact sheet. They used the wrong picture for the CUNY sats. Even mislabeled the photo.

  • lars0

    Also the URL to the cuny-sat project is broken and I realized after the fact that there is only one Cuny-sat.

  • Douglas Messier

    Fixed. i think.