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Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

CUTE Design

About CubeSats

CUTE Instrument

The CUTE optical system. It features rectangular primary and secondary optics, a novel design which increases the amount of light collected by a factor of 3!

CubeSats are small satellites that are usually designed to perform scientific measurements and observations in space. The original specifications for CubeSats were released in 1999 by Cal Poly and Stanford University in an effort to standardize design to allow for reduced cost and increased accessibility to space. They come in multiples of a standard cube size of 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, called units (U). They are launched as a “guest” on a host rocket carrying much larger spacecrafts.

About CUTE

CUTE is a 6U CubeSat whose bus and primary subsystems (including the attitude control system, GPS receiver, communication systems, electrical power system, and solar array) are provided by Blue Canyon Technologies.

CUTE contains a novel rectangular reflector that increases collection area by a factor of 3 over a standard circular aperture. It was designed by Co-I Brian Fleming and will be fabricated by Nu-Tek.

Here’s how light travels through the CUTE instrument, as shown in the image above:

  • Light travels in from the left and is collected by a 20 cm x 8.5 cm rectangular Cassegrain telescope. The rectangular design provides more than three times the collecting area of conventional circular apertures that fit into a 1 U tall spacecraft.
  • The incident beam is reflected off a small fold mirror (Fold #1) and passes through the spectrograph entrance slit, which has projection of 23 arcminutes (23′) on the sky.
  • Light is dispersed by an ion-etched diffraction grating (from Horiba J-Y) that builds off the heritage of the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • The dispersed beam is then reflected off of a second fold mirror (Fold #2) before being recorded on a UV-optimized 2048 x 515 pixel e2v CCD array (Detector Array).

CUTE is nominally scheduled to launch in the first half of 2020 into a sun-synchronous orbit. NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) will provide the launch opportunity.