Smallsat 2016: NASA Program & Mission Updates

Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)
Two three-unit (3U) CubeSats. At about a foot in length and four inches wide, these are similar in design to IceCube and the five selected heliophysics CubeSats. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials have been providing updates this week on agency programs and missions during the 2016 Small Satellite Conference and the CubeSat Workshop that preceded it. I have pulled together summaries of their presentations drawn from Twitter.  Information has come from the following Tweeters:

  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave
  • Hanna Steplewska ‏@spacesurfingirl
  • Augie Allen ‏@AugieAllen
  • RITSpaceExploration ‏@RITSPEX

Enjoy!

PROGRAMS

NASA Education Launch of Nanosats (ELaNa) Program
Garret Skrobot, NASA KSC

  • Program launches satellites largely from the International Space Station and as secondary payloads aboard commercial flights
  • 3 missions undertaken last year, 6 scheduled for year to come
  • ElaNa will fly satellites aboard Venture Class Launch vehicles in 2017 and 2018
  • Venture Class launchers include Electron from Rocket Lab, LauncherOne from Virgin Galactic and Alpha from Firefly
  • Venture class launchers will help program clear backlog of satellites

Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator Mission
John Marmie, NASA Ames

  • NASA Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator focused on maturing technologies using 6U CubeSats
  • Missions include testing thrusters from Aerojet Rocketdyne, Busek Company and Tethers Unlimited
  • Reviewing bids for 6U CubeSat satellite bus, unsure when award will be made

NASA Cube Quest Challenge
Jim Cockrell, NASA Ames

  • Cube Quest Challenge is competition for satellites to fly on SLS/Orion flight in 2018
  • Final round will be held publicly at NASA Ames Research Center in Spring 2017
  • 3 industry and 5 academic teams in the competition
  • Another competitor is in the process of joining the competition

ISS Satellite Deployment
Daniel Newswander, NASA JSC

  • International Space Station (ISS) uses Cyclops satellite deployer to launch “geometrically challenged” satellites weighing up to 100 kg
  • Officials are considering expanding what Cyclops can deploy
  • Cyclops was used to deploy Lonestar satellite, which was an autonomous rendezvous and docking experiment
  • Lonestar included a P-Pod deployer that held a CubeSat

MISSIONS & PROJECTS

Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS)
Randy Rose, Southwest Research Institute

  • CYGNSS consists of 8 spacecraft set to launch aboard an Orbital ATK Pegasus in November
  • CYGNSS would support tropical weather forecasting
  • Spacecraft based on 12U CubeSat with addition of a structure to support phased array antennae
  • Cyclone forecasting is 50 percent more accurate today than in the 1990’s
  • However, meteorologists have not improved their forecasting of the intensity of cyclones
  • There are gaps in existing satellite coverage that CYGNSS will help fill
A concept image of the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, one of 11 missions that will be secondary payloads to the first test flight of NASA's Space Launch System. (Credit: NASA)
A concept image of the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, one of 11 missions that will be secondary payloads to the first test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System. (Credit: NASA)

NEA Scout
Jared Dervan, NASA JPL

  • NEA Scout asteroid flyby mission will launch as secondary payload on SLS/Orion flight in 2018
  • Will use solar sail to conduct a flyby of asteroid 1991 VG
  • Spacecraft is a 6U CubeSat with 86^m solar sail

BioSentinel Mission
Hugo Sanchez, NASA Ames

  • 4U biology radiation mission that will launch on SLS/Orion flight in 2018
  • BioSentinel will use spectrometer to measure growth of 3 types of yeast in two different media over 18 months
  • Results will be correlated with control group on the ground
  • Spacecraft will be deployed at first of five separate times in mission where CubeSats will be released
  • Spacecraft will fly through Van Allen radiation belts before passing the moon

Europa CubeSat Mission
Kyle Rankin, New Mexico State University

  • 3U CubeSat would fly aboard Europa Clipper in the 2020’s
  • 14-day mission after deployment from Europa Clipper spacecraft
  • Planetary protection requirements would prohibit CubeSat from touching Europa’s surface
  • Planetary protection complicates end of mission planning
  • Experiments would include drag measurement and high energy particle detector
  • CubeSat would communicate with Europa Clipper, which would relay data back to Earth
  • Would try to fly through Europa plumes if they can determine their locations
  • CubeSat would operate on 7 watts of power
  • Jupiter’s radiation is so severe that no commercial off-the-shelf parts would survive

NASA Glenn 3U CubeSat
Katie Oriti, NASA Glenn

  • Center developing 3U CubeSat with 100-watt power system
  • Spacecraft presents design and thermal challenges
  • Flight planned for 2017

Multidirectional Cosmic Ray Ion Detector for Deep Space CubeSats
John Wrbanek, NASA Glenn

  • Development of a multidirectional cosmic ray ion detectors for use on deep-space smallsats
  • Particle detectors would fly on planetary science and heliophysics missions
  • Favored solution is the use of wide band gap silicon carbide devices
  • These devices are robust, radiation hardened and use less power than other options
  • Developing a compact, full-field ion detector system (CFIDS) is a future concept

Low-cost Solutions for Small Spacecraft
David McComas, NASA Goddard

  • Morpheus lander was the first vehicle to use NASA’s Core Flight System (cFS)
  • Main goal is a lifecycle approach to reuse
  • cFS is based on more than 20 years of Goddard flight systems
  • cFS enable rapids development
  • cFS is open source, but NASA has yet to make it readily available for public use
  • NASA will launch a cFS website soon (http://coreflightsystem.org)

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