NASA Announces Latest Candidates for CubeSat Space Missions

CubeSats Deployed From International Space Station on ELaNa38 Mission

A total of four CubeSats were deployed from the International Space Station on the ELaNa38 Mission. Credit: NASA

NASA has selected eight small research satellites from seven states to fly as either auxiliary payloads or deployments from the International Space Station (ISS). These missions are currently planned to launch in the 2023-2026 timeframe. 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 on August 9, 2021.

“CSLI fosters innovation in the science and technology community by launching CubeSats built by diverse organizations — from middle schools to NASA Centers,” said Samantha Johnson, Launch Services Office, NASA Headquarters. “These partnerships benefit NASA, commercial launch partners, and participants by providing a low-cost pathway to launch small satellites conducting scientific investigations, technology demonstrations, Earth observation, and more.”

CubeSat Space Missions Map

NASA has selected eight small research satellites from seven states to fly as either auxiliary payloads or deployments from the International Space Station during the 2023-2026 timeframe. Credit: NASA

CubeSats are a type of space research nanosatellite. 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.

CubeSats Deployed From ISS on ELaNa38 Mission

A total of four CubeSats were deployed from the International Space Station on the ELaNa38 Mission. Credit: NASA

CSLI 13th Round CubeSat Selections

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

  • Arizona State University – Star-Planet Activity Research CubeSat (SPARCS) is devoted to photometric monitoring of M stars in the far-ultraviolet (UV) and near-UV, measuring the time-dependent spectral slope, intensity and evolution of M-star stellar UV radiation. SPARCS will continually observe each selected target over at least one complete stellar rotation (5-45 days). SPARCS will also advance UV detector technology by flying high quantum efficiency (QE), UV-optimized detectors developed at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – The Virtual Super-Resolution Optics with Reconfigurable Swarms (VISORS) formation will image the solar corona at the resolution required to determine the existence of hypothesized heat-release bands. These scientific phenomena may explain why the corona exhibits such unexpectedly large temperatures. By separating the telescope components across two spacecraft, the VISORS formation avoids the scaling problem which limits conventional coronal imagers and gathers high-quality imagery at a fraction of the cost.
  • NASA Langley Research Center – ARCSTONE will provide more accurate lunar spectral reflectance measurements to establish an absolute lunar calibration standard for past, current, and future Earth observing sensors. The objective of this project is to demonstrate in-space validation of an approach for establishing the Moon as an accurate reference for on-orbit calibration of reflected solar instruments.
  • California Polytechnic State University – Additively Manufactured Deployable Radiator with Oscillating Heat Pipes (AMDROHPSat) primary aim is to demonstrate the use of a new generation of deployable radiators in low-Earth orbit (LEO). The demonstration of this technology will enable small satellite mission with greater thermal constraints to operate in LEO and beyond.
  • Olin College – The Space Weather Atmospheric Reconfigurable Multiscale Experiment (SWARM-EX) project provides an important step in the advancement of designing and building CubeSat constellations for space weather. SWARM-EX will consist of three identical CubeSats with novel technologies for radio communications between satellites, onboard propulsion, advanced data downlinks, and autonomous operations within the constellation. Each satellite will measure ionized and neutral gases in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, studying structures seen near the equator.
  • University of New Hampshire – The 3U3-A measures precipitating electrons and ultraviolet (UV) emissions in the auroral and cusp regions of Earth. These measurements are combined with other measurements of the interplanetary conditions to investigate how the polar regions of Earth’s atmosphere respond to varying solar wind conditions and particle precipitation. The proposed work gives undergraduate students experience in space physics and engineering by letting them lead a CubeSat mission in all stages of the mission life cycle, from design to data analysis. In addition to its educational objective, 3U3-A has a secondary scientific objective of advancing our understanding of Earth’s atmosphere in the polar LEO.
  • Utah State University – The Active Cooling for Multispectral Earth Sensors (ACMES) mission is to simultaneously validate two new technologies, each representing an important advance in satellite remote sensing capability for Earth science. The first technology is the Active Thermal Architectures (ATA) and the second technology is the HyTI (Hyperspectral Thermal Imager). ACMES includes two student technology demonstrations, the Filter Incidence Narrowband Infrared Spectrometer (FINIS) and the Planer Langmuir/Impedance Diagnostic (PLAID).
  • Arizona State University – The Deployable Optical Receiver Aperture (DORA) mission will perform a technology demonstration of a widefield infrared laser communication terminal for small satellites. The new technology enables communication networks in cis-lunar space and new mission classes, including constellations of small satellites for scientific investigations.

To date, 210 CubeSat missions from 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have been selected, and 134 CubeSat missions have launched into space through ELaNa rideshare opportunities.

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