The ultraviolet (UV) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum provides some of the most powerful diagnostics to shape our understanding of stars, planets, galaxies, and all the material in-between, but it has long been one of the most difficult regions to explore. The principal go-to observatory for astronomers is the venerable Hubble Space Telescope—the most sensitive ultraviolet eyes into the universe we have ever known. NASA is now studying a behemoth space observatory as a potential successor to Hubble to answer the pressing questions of the future, the Large UltraViolet/Optical/InfraRed Observatory (LUVOIR). At a massive 50 feet in diameter, LUVOIR would be more than 40 times larger than Hubble and 150 times more sensitive, but it’s more than a decade from being built.
Recent advances in technology have opened up a new and perhaps unexpected dimension in UV space astronomy that will fill the gap between Hubble and a possible LUVOIR: small satellites. At sizes ranging from a shoebox to a mini-fridge, these tiny spacecraft have the potential to do science that is exceedingly difficult even for Hubble, and outside the capabilities of other space astronomy missions.
In this talk, Dr. Brian Fleming will tell us what has changed to make a shoebox satellite suddenly have outsized potential, and highlight some exciting science that will be carried out by LASP scientists with the first batch of astrophysics CubeSats in the coming years.
For more than four years, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has explored the mysteries of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere. More recently, the spacecraft has gotten up close and personal with that same expanse of gas.
Earlier this year, MAVEN dipped into the highest reaches of Mars’ atmosphere over a two-month “aerobraking” campaign, using the resistance there to slow itself down in space and shift the dynamics of its orbit.
Those maneuvers ushered in a new era for MAVEN and for LASP, which leads the overall mission and the science operations for MAVEN, and built two of its instruments.
In the wake of an unfortunate event, two University of Colorado Boulder (CU) graduate students have accomplished a remarkable feat in space science: they’ve designed and built a new satellite instrument in less than three months.
Bennet Schwab, a graduate student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, and Robert Sewell, a graduate student in the Department of Physics, have been on an emotional roller coaster ride over the past few months. One extended peak in that ride came during the preparation and launch of the NASA Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer, or MinXSS-2, CubeSat on December 3, 2018, and the subsequent successful observations of X-rays from the Sun. This initial success was soon followed by a setback, when there was a loss of communication with the CubeSat on January 7, 2019.
In one of the spacecraft operations centers inside LASP’s Space Technology Building, a woman’s calm voice pipes in over a speaker:
“Loss of signal, MMS-4,” the voice reports.
The room looks like a smaller version of the NASA flight control centers that show up in every space movie. The announcement is a routine cue that one of the four spacecraft that make up the Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) mission has finished its latest round of transmitting data back to Earth.
Often the first person to hear such alerts isn’t a grizzled mission control veteran, but rather a CU Boulder student. That’s because LASP employs student “command controllers” to help operate the space missions under its supervision.