Secondary Payloads Increasingly Take Center Stage

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On most launches, the small secondary satellites that ride along with the primary payloads garner little attention.

That has begun to change in recent years as CubeSats have become increasingly capable. The importance of these small satellites could be seen in the recent launch of an Indian PSLV rocket, which carried a CartoSat Earth observation satellite and 30 secondary spacecraft from India, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and the United States.

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NASA Team First to Demonstrate X-ray Navigation in Space

This illustration shows the NICER mission at work aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — In a technology first, a team of NASA engineers has demonstrated fully autonomous X-ray navigation in space — a capability that could revolutionize NASA’s ability in the future to pilot robotic spacecraft to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond.

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Restore-L Satellite Servicing Mission Passes PDR

Artist’s conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)

PALO ALTO, Calif. – December 20, 2017 – SSL, a business unit of Maxar Technologies (formerly MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.) (NYSE: MAXR; TSX: MAXR) and a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, announced today that the Restore-L mission to provide satellite servicing in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) has completed an extensive NASA review called the Mission Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and is on track to meet its next development milestone, called Key Decision Point C (KDP-C).

The on-schedule progress and successful reviews for this mission, which will develop and demonstrate key technologies essential to future NASA missions and commercial activities, are tangible evidence of SSL leadership, experience, and commitment to space innovation.

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NASA Begins Checkout of Dellingr Spacecraft Designed to Improve Robustness of CubeSat Platforms

This is the Dellingr spacecraft right before its release. NASA specifically developed this spacecraft to provide high-quality science data on a small platform. (Credit: Nanoracks)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA ground controllers have begun checking out and commissioning a shoebox-sized spacecraft that the agency purposely built to show that CubeSat platforms could be cost-effective, reliable, and capable of gathering highly robust science.

The Dellingr spacecraft will begin science operations once ground controllers complete checkout, which began a few hours after the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer aboard the International Space Station released the CubeSat into its low-Earth orbit Nov. 20.

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NASA Small Satellite Promises Big Discoveries

Dr. Reyhan Baktur, a co-investigator from Utah State University, poses with a glass component of UF-Radsat’s solar array. (Credit: Utah State University)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Small satellites provide a cheap, responsive alternative to larger, more expensive satellites. As demand grows, engineers must adapt these “nanosatellites” to provide greater data returns. NASA, in collaboration with educational partners, targets 2021 for the launch of an innovative CubeSat that addresses these challenges.

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ATLAS Space Operations & NASA Partner to Advance Commercial Space Technology

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (ATLAS Space Operations PR) — ATLAS Space Operations, Inc. announced today that it has entered a collaborative partnership with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This partnership, as a part of the Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity (ACO), will work to support the development of advanced commercial space telecommunications capabilities, industry wide.

ATLAS is revolutionizing space-to-ground communications with their proprietary data management platform – ATLAS Freedom and a scalable satellite ground station technology, ATLAS LINKS Electronically Steered Array.

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NASA’s Asteroid-Bound Spacecraft to Slingshot Past Earth

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth.
(Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer), will pass about 11,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) above Earth just before 12:52 p.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 22. Using Earth as a slingshot, the spacecraft will receive an assist to complete its journey to the asteroid Bennu.

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NASA Tests Autopilot Sensors During Simulations

A model of a satellite aft end on a robot for simulated, controlled rendezvous at the Space Operations Simulation Center. (Credit: NASA)

DENVER (NASA PR) — Inside a large, black-walled facility outside Denver, NASA’s Satellite Servicing Projects Division (SSPD) team successfully completed the latest testing of three rendezvous and proximity operations sensors used for satellite servicing applicatons and beyond. These sensors are needed for autonomous rendezvous of spacecraft, which is a vital technology for robotically servicing a satellite.

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NASA’s Asteroid-Bound Spacecraft to Slingshot Past Earth

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth.
(Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer), will pass about 11,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) above Earth just before 12:52 p.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 22. Using Earth as a slingshot, the spacecraft will receive an assist to complete its journey to the asteroid Bennu.

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NASA’s Space Act Agreements with SpaceX, Boeing, ULA & Sierra Nevada


NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.

From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with SpaceX, Boeing, United Launch Alliance and Sierra Nevada Corporation. The four companies have been involved with NASA’s Commercial Crew and Commercial Resupply Services programs.

SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)
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New CubeSat Propulsion System Uses Water as Propellant

Purdue University graduate student Katherine Fowee and postdoctoral research associate Anthony Cofer work on a new micropropulsion system for miniature satellites called CubeSats. (Credit: Purdue University/Erin Easterling)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (Purdue University PR)  – A new type of micropropulsion system for miniature satellites called CubeSats uses an innovative design of tiny nozzles that release precise bursts of water vapor to maneuver the spacecraft.

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NASA Studies Tethered CubeSat Mission to Study Lunar Swirls

This artist’s drawing shows how two CubeSats, connected by a miles-long tether, would gather measurements on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — A novel mission concept involving two CubeSats connected by a thin, miles-long tether could help scientists understand how the Moon got its mysterious “tattoos” — swirling patterns of light and dark found at more than 100 locations across the lunar surface.

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Science Payloads Set for Launch Aboard CRS-12 Mission

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., August 8, 2017 (CASIS PR) The SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle is poised to launch its 12th cargo resupply mission (CRS-12) to the International Space Station (ISS) no earlier than August 13th, 2017 from Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A.

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will carry more than 20 ISS National Laboratory payloads to conduct research across a variety of areas aimed at improving life on Earth, including research on Parkinson’s disease, new anti-bacterial compounds, new approaches to treating blood pressure, and pioneering new advances in the use of stem cells for repairing damage from disease, among many others. Thus far in 2017, the ISS National Lab has sponsored more than 100 separate experiments that have reached the station.

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NASA’s Hubble Sees Martian Moon Orbiting the Red Planet

The sharp eye of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured the tiny moon Phobos during its orbital trek around Mars. Because the moon is so small, it appears star-like in the Hubble pictures.

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Over the course of 22 minutes, Hubble took 13 separate exposures, allowing astronomers to create a time-lapse video showing the diminutive moon’s orbital path. The Hubble observations were intended to photograph Mars, and the moon’s cameo appearance was a bonus.

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is Waaay Too Modest

This enhanced-color image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was created by citizen scientist Jason Major using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Jason Major)

This Thing is Effin’ Awesome, Man! Thanks Juno!

JUPITER ORBIT (NASA PR) — Images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot reveal a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval. The JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno mission snapped pics of the most iconic feature of the solar system’s largest planetary inhabitant during its Monday (July 10) flyby. The images of the Great Red Spot were downlinked from the spacecraft’s memory on Tuesday and placed on the mission’s JunoCam website Wednesday morning.

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