NASA Announces 12th Round of Candidates for CubeSat Space Missions

ELaNa 31 CubeSats, SPOC and Bobcat-1, deploy from the International Space Station on Nov. 5, 2020. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 14 small research satellites from nine states – including a first-time selected state, Nebraska – to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets launching between 2022 and 2025. The selected CubeSats were proposed by educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and NASA centers in response to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) call for proposals issued in October 2020.

“CSLI enables incredible opportunities for CubeSat developers from diverse institutions including universities, high schools, and non-profit organizations,” said Sam Fonder, program executive, Launch Services Office. “These innovative partnerships benefit both NASA and the greater science community by helping to bridge gaps in knowledge and, ultimately, accelerate technology.”

NASA has selected 14 small research satellites from nine states to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets launching in 2022, 2023, 2024, and 2025. (Credits: NASA)

CubeSats are a type of small spacecraft. In their smallest form, they measure about four inches on each side, weigh less than three pounds, and have an approximate volume of one quart. CubeSats are built using these standard dimensions or units (U) and are typically classified as 1U, 2U, 3U, 6U, or 12U in total size. Each selected CubeSat proposal was required to address aspects of the agency’s science, technology development, or education goals.

Launch opportunities for the selectees are provided through the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) missions facilitated by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP). Selected CubeSats will launch aboard planned spaceflight missions led by NASA, other U.S. government agencies, or commercial organizations with coordination from LSP. After launch, the CubeSats will deploy into orbit from either the launch vehicle or the International Space Station. 

CSLI 12th Round CubeSat Selections

The organizations and the CubeSats chosen during this selection round are:

  • University of Colorado, Boulder – Supernova Remnants and Proxies for ReIonization Testbed Experiment (SPRITE) is a scientific investigation mission designed to observe ionizing radiation escape from low redshift star-forming galaxies, and the internal processes that shape galaxy evolution. SPRITE will carry out two scientific surveys over a one-year mission. The first is a mapping survey of star-forming regions and supernova remnants in the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds to assess the impact of massive stars on galaxy evolution. The second survey will observe the ionizing radiation spectrum of 100 galaxies in the 0.16-0.5 redshift range as proxies for galaxies at the Epoch of Reionization.
  • Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island – Perovskite Visuals and Degradation eXperiment (PVDX) is a technology demonstration mission to test and characterize a novel photovoltaic technology in space: perovskite solar cells (PSCs). PSCs are an emerging photovoltaic (PV) technology that has the potential to revolutionize aerospace PVs. They are particularly well-suited for aerospace applications because of their chemical tunability, high specific power, low cost, resistance to radiation, low-light capabilities, self-healing properties, and potential to be manufactured in space. The secondary focus of PVDX’s mission is education and engagement, particularly with those from historically underrepresented groups.
  • SilverSat Limited, Silver Spring, Maryland – SilverSat has a primary mission to provide science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for secondary and elementary school students in the greater Silver Spring, Maryland, area by providing innovative hands-on and collaborative opportunities to teach and inspire. SilverSat’s secondary mission is a technology demonstration using social media to send information directly from a satellite to its users and the interested public. SilverSat’s mission engages students in STEM topics by directly sending mission data and photos of the Earth through Twitter.
An ELaNa 30 CubeSat, TechEdSat-10, deploys from the International Space Station on July 13, 2020. (Credits: NASA)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge – Staged Electrospray Pathfinder 1 (STEP-1) is a technology demonstration mission for the staged electrospray propulsion system developed as part of the High Specific Impulse Electrospray Explorer for Deep Space (HiSPEED) project in NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program. The primary goals of the mission are to demonstrate the use of a staged configuration in order to increase the total impulse delivered by state-of-the-art propulsion systems based on microfabricated electrospray thrusters and to use these thrusters for orbital control maneuvers in CubeSats.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder – Atmospheric Effects of Precipitation through Energetic X-rays (AEPEX) is a scientific investigation mission that aims to better understand the influence of the magnetosphere on the Earth’s upper atmosphere through energetic particle precipitation (EPP). One of the key uncertainties in reaching closure on how EPP impacts the atmosphere is the lack of knowledge regarding how much energy is put into the atmosphere via EPP. To address this uncertainty, the primary objective of AEPEX is to quantify the energy deposition to the atmosphere from energetic particles that precipitate from the radiation belts and other sources.
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln – “Big Red Sat-1” is an education mission with a primary goal of engaging and developing future aerospace engineers by contributing to the development of critical technologies to improve solar power generation. The technology demonstration secondary focus is to take proven perovskite panel technology at technical readiness level (TRL)-5 to TRL-6 by testing the panels in space using flight heritage information and systems to maximize potential success. Testing should provide answers on handling and the life of perovskites, as well as comparative day/night performance with silicon in a space environment.
  • Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee – RHodes-OKlahoma Collaboration (RHOK-SAT) is an education mission conceived by a team of undergraduate students at Rhodes College with a secondary science investigation focus to test the space hardiness of novel photovoltaic devices for lunar and planetary missions. These devices are under active development and investigation by The University of Oklahoma.
  • Arizona State University, Tempe – LightCube is an education mission to allow a CubeSat in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to be easily operable by members of the general public. The LightCube CubeSat will provide a platform that increases the number of individuals who can participate in space activities. Specifically, anyone with appropriate amateur radio licensing within their jurisdiction and commercial radio equipment available for purchase for less than fifty dollars will be able to telecommand LightCube. The LightCube CubeSat will respond with a flash visible to the naked eye of the commander. In the process of operating LightCube, the user will inevitably learn important science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts in areas such as telecommunications, spacecraft design, atmospheric and climate science, and orbital mechanics.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology Haystack Observatory, Westford
    • Auroral Emission Radio Observer (AERO) is a scientific investigation mission in polar orbit that will qualify and validate a novel electromagnetic Vector Sensor while answering key scientific questions about the nature and sources of auroral radio emissions. These questions cannot be addressed from the ground due to shielding by the ionosphere. Earth’s aurora has a complexity and richness in both energetics and spatial/temporal structure that is of intense interest for our understanding of space physics.
    • Vector Interferometry Space Technology using AERO (VISTA) is a technology demonstration mission in a polar orbit that will advance our ability to perform radio interferometry using CubeSats in space. This mission is a technical pathfinder that leverages the Auroral Emission Radio Observer (AERO) CubeSat project by duplicating that satellite in a build-to-print manner. VISTA will launch at the same time as AERO. The experiment will use the two CubeSats in orbit and combine them with ground-based beacons and receivers to demonstrate the performance advantages of Vector Sensor Interferometry relative to conventional approaches.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder – Climatology of Anthropogenic and Natural VLF wave Activity in Space (CANVAS) is a scientific investigation mission to measure very low frequency (VLF) wave energy in low-Earth orbit (LEO) originating from lightning and ground-based transmitters. VLF waves play an important role in controlling the evolution of energetic electron distributions in near-Earth space. Whistler-mode waves propagating in the magnetospheric plasma can induce pitch angle scattering and precipitation of trapped energetic particles, and research has shown that both VLF waves radiated from lightning and ground-based VLF transmitters play a significant role in radiation belt dynamics. However, an accurate quantification of the amount of VLF energy that penetrates from the ground, through the ionosphere, and into the magnetosphere is critical to our understanding of the effects of ground-based electromagnetic sources in the space environment.
  • Perkins Local School District, Sandusky, Ohio – “Foras Promineo” (Latin for “outreach,” or pushing oneself beyond the previous limits) is an education mission where the payload is a dynamic game that will inspire, engage, and educate the public. The gameplay is in the style of a robotics competition game, with a robotic arm that must capture and place balls into targets as quickly and accurately as possible. The arm acts autonomously based on programs that can be submitted by the public for upload to the payload computer.
  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland – Dione is a scientific investigation heliophysics mission that will study the responses of the ionosphere-thermosphere (IT) system to magnetospheric energy input and, in turn, enable their better forecast and prediction. Magnetospheric energy input deposited to the upper atmosphere affects human assets in low-Earth orbit and on the ground. Understanding the fundamental processes of the energy deposition and IT responses is the path for developing better specification and forecast models for space weather.
  • California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo – PowerSat is a technology demonstration mission on the use of a new generation of deployable solar arrays in low-Earth orbit, which would be the first step in developing space-based solar power systems using small satellites. Having a secondary focus of education, the project will create hands-on, project-based learning opportunities and science, technology, education, and math, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusivity values awareness for more than fifty students at the undergraduate and graduate level.

To date, 202 CubeSat missions from 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have been selected, and 118 CubeSat missions have launched into space through ELaNa rideshare opportunities.

For additional information on how to apply for a launch opportunity through CSLI, visit