The Summer of Satellites Begins With a Spectacular Night Launch

Firefly Aerospace Alpha Rocket Launch

Firefly Aerospace successfully launched eight small satellites on July 3 for NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. The launch, part of the “Noise of Summer” mission from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, involved satellites aimed at climate research and technology development. Credit: Firefly Aerospace/Trevor Mahlmann

On July 3, Firefly Aerospace launched eight satellites under NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

As part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, Firefly Aerospace launched eight small satellites on July 3 aboard the company’s Alpha rocket. Named “Noise of Summer,” the rocket successfully lifted off from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:04 p.m. PDT.

The ELaNa 43 (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites 43) mission includes eight CubeSats that were designed by universities and NASA centers and cover science that includes climate studies, satellite technology development, and educational outreach to students.

“The Firefly team knocked it out of the park,” said Bill Weber, CEO of Firefly Aerospace. “As a NASA vendor for both launch and lunar services, we look forward to continuing this partnership and supporting the agency’s larger space exploration goals from Earth to the Moon and beyond.”

Firefly Aerospace Alpha Rocket Trail

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket leaves a glowing trail above the skies of Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on July 3, 2024. Credit: Firefly Aerospace/Trevor Mahlmann

Firefly Aerospace completed its Venture-Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 contract with this launch. The agency’s venture-class contracts offer launch opportunities for new providers, helping grow the commercial launch industry and leading to cost-effective competition for future NASA missions.

NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) is an ongoing partnership between the agency, educational institutions, and nonprofits, providing a path to space for educational small satellite missions. For the ELaNa 43 mission, each satellite is stored in a CubeSat dispenser on the Firefly rocket and deployed once it reaches sun-synchronous or nearly polar orbit around Earth.

CubeSats are built using standardized units, with one unit, or 1U, measuring about 10 centimeters in length, width, and height. This standardization in size and form allows universities and other researchers to develop cost-effective science investigations and technology demonstrations.

Satellite for Optimal Control and Imaging (SOC-i) CubeSat

A Satellite for Optimal Control and Imaging (SOC-i) CubeSat awaits integration at Firefly’s Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California on Thursday, June 6, 2024. SOC-i, along with several other CubeSats, will launch to space on an Alpha rocket during NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) 43 mission as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative and Firefly’s Venture-Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 contract. Credit: NASA

Read more about the small satellites launched on ELaNa 43:

CatSat – University of Arizona, Tucson

CatSat, a 6U CubeSat with a deployable antenna inside a Mylar balloon, will test high-speed communications. Once the CatSat reaches orbit, it will inflate to transmit high-definition Earth photos to ground stations at 50 megabits per second, more than five times faster than typical home internet speeds.

The CatSat design inspiration came to Chris Walker after covering a pot of pudding with plastic wrap. The CatSat principal investigator and professor of Astronomy at University of Arizona noticed the image of an overhanging light bulb created by reflections off the concave plastic wrap on the pot.

“This observation eventually led to the Large Balloon Reflector, an inflatable technology that creates large collecting apertures that weigh a fraction of today’s deployable antennas,” said Walker. The Large Balloon Reflector was an early-stage study developed through NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program.

KUbeSat-1 – University of Kansas, Lawrence

The KUbeSat-1, a 3U CubeSat, will use a new method to measure the energy and type of primary cosmic rays hitting the Earth, which is traditionally done on Earth. The second payload, the High-Altitude Calibration will measure very high frequency signals generated by cosmic interactions with the atmosphere. KUbeSat-1 is Kansas’ first small satellite to launch under NASA’s CSLI.

MESAT-1 – University of Maine, Orono

MESAT-1, a 3U CubeSat, will study local temperatures across city and rural areas to determine phytoplankton concentration in bodies of water to help predict algal blooms.  MESAT-1 is Maine’s first small satellite to launch under NASA’s CSLI.

CubeSat R5 Spacecraft 4 (R5-S4)

NASA and Firefly Aerospace engineers review the integration plan for the agency’s CubeSat R5 Spacecraft 4 (R5-S4) at Firefly Aerospace’s Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. Credit: NASA/Jacob Nunez-Kearny

R5-S4, R5-S2-2.0 ­­­­­- NASA’s Johnson Space Center

R5-S4 and R5-S2-2.0, both 6U CubeSats, will be the first R5 spacecraft launched to orbit to test a new, lean spacecraft build. The team will monitor how each part of the spacecraft performs, including the computer, software, radio, propulsion system, sensors, and cameras in low Earth orbit.

“In the near term, R5 hopes to demonstrate new processes that allows for faster and cheaper development of high-performance CubeSats,” said Sam Pedrotty, R5 project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The cost and schedule improvements will allow R5 to provide higher-risk ride options to low-Technology Readiness Levels payloads so more can be demonstrated on-orbit.”

Serenity Teachers in Space

Serenity, a 3U CubeSat equipped with data sensors and a camera, will communicate with students on Earth through amateur radio signals and send back images. Teachers in Space launches satellites as educational experiments to stimulate interest in space science, technology, engineering, and math among students in North America.

SOC-i University of Washington, Seattle

Satellite for Optimal Control and Imaging (SOC-i), a 2U CubeSat, is a technology demonstration mission of attitude control technology used to maintain its orientation in relation to the Earth, Sun, or other body. This mission will test an algorithm to support autonomous operations with constrained attitude guidance maneuvers computed in real-time aboard the spacecraft. SOC-i will autonomously rotate its camera to capture images.

TechEdSat-11 (TES-11) – NASA’s Ames Research Center, California’s Silicon Valley

TES-11, a 6U CubeSat, is a collaborative effort between NASA researchers and students to evaluate technologies for use in small satellites. It’s part of ongoing experiments to evaluate new technologies in communications, a radiation sensor suite, and experimental solar panels, as well as to find ways to reduce the time to de-orbit.

1 Comment on "The Summer of Satellites Begins With a Spectacular Night Launch"

  1. Flight 5 of Starship is coming up. Won’t hear anything from these SciDemocratDaily people. Never heard about the magnificent success of flight 4!

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