NASA Cues up CubeSats for Glory Launch
|A Rubik’s Cube-sized communication satellite designed and built by a University of Colorado at Boulder undergraduate team.|
NASA will launch small research satellites for several universities as part of the agency’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellite, or ELaNA, mission. The satellites are manifested as an auxiliary payload on the Taurus XL launch vehicle for NASA’s Glory mission, planned for liftoff in late November 2010. The satellites, called CubeSats because of their shape, come from Montana State University, the University of Colorado and Kentucky Space, a consortium of state universities. The University of Florida was selected as an alternate in case one of the three primary spacecraft cannot fly.
CubeSats are in a class of small research spacecraft called picosatellites. They have a size of approximately four inches, a volume of about one quart and weigh no more than 2.2 pounds. To place these satellites into orbit by an agency expendable launch vehicle, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is adapting the Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer, or PPOD. This deployment system, designed and manufactured by the California Polytechnic State University in partnership with Stanford University, has flown previously on Department of Defense and commercial launch vehicles.
Montana State designated its satellite as Explorer 1 Prime, or E1P. The name honors the launch and scientific discoveries of the Explorer-1 mission, which detected the Van Allen radiation belts more than 50 years ago. E1P will carry a miniature Geiger tube to measure the intensity and variability of the electrons in the Van Allen belts.
Colorado’s satellite is named Hermes. Its mission is to improve CubeSat communications through the on-orbit testing of a high data-rate communication system that will allow the downlink of large quantities of data.
The Kentucky vehicle is called KySat-1. It includes a camera to support a scientific outreach program intended for, but not limited to, Kentucky students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The satellite also has a 2.4-gigahertz industrial, scientific and medical band radio, which will be used to test high-bandwidth communications in the license-free portion of the S-band.
The satellites will hitch a ride to space with the Taurus rocket’s primary payload, NASA’s Glory spacecraft. The Glory climate mission, developed by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, will extend the nearly 30-year record of precise measurements of the sun’s energy output. It also will obtain first-ever, global measurements of the distribution of tiny airborne aerosol particles. Aerosols represent one of the greatest areas of uncertainty in understanding Earth’s climate system.
The ELaNA project is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center.