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.
A NASA-funded CubeSat, built and operated at LASP, will study the inner radiation belt of Earth’s magnetosphere, providing new insight into the energetic particles that can disrupt satellites and threaten spacewalking astronauts.
The $4 million Cubesat: Inner Radiation Belt Experiment (CIRBE) mission, tentatively slated for a 2021 launch, will provide some of the first advanced resolution of one of Earth’s two Van Allen belts, a zone that traps energetic particles in the planet’s magnetic field. This powerful radiation, known to physicists since the late 1950s, poses a hazard to solar panels, electronic circuitry, and other hardware onboard spacecraft traveling at and beyond low-Earth orbit.
A 60-year-old mystery regarding the source of some energetic and potentially damaging particles in Earth’s radiation belts is now solved using data from a shoebox-sized satellite built and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students at LASP.
The results from the new study indicate energetic electrons in Earth’s inner radiation belt—primarily near its inner edge—are created by cosmic rays born from explosions of supernovas, said the study’s lead author, LASP scientist Xinlin Li. Earth’s radiation belts, known as the Van Allen belts, are layers of energetic particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic field.
A team led by LASP scientists, engineers, and students has been selected to build a tiny orbiting satellite to study the evaporating atmospheres of gigantic “hot Jupiters”—distant gaseous planets orbiting scorchingly close to their parent stars.
To date more than 100 gas giants have been discovered orbiting very close to their parent stars, said LASP planetary scientist, Kevin France, principal investigator on the four-year, $3.3 million effort funded by NASA. France and his colleagues believe the new study of hot Jupiters—some of which are so close to parent stars they orbit them in a matter of days—will help planetary scientists better understand the evolution of our own solar system.
LASP has joined forces with universities and space agencies from around the world in an international effort to design and build small satellites as a way to train future scientists and engineers.
The project, known as the International Satellite Program in Research and Education (INSPIRE), so far involves seven nations—the U.S., France, Taiwan, Japan, India, Singapore and Oman—says Project Manager and LASP engineer Amal Chandran.
The aim of INSPIRE is to establish a long-term academic program for developing a constellation of small satellites and a global network of ground stations, Chandran explains.
A bread loaf-sized satellite, designed and built by University of Colorado students, has been collecting data since its deployment from the International Space Station on May 16 and is providing observations of the sun at unprecedented wavelengths and resolution.
The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS)—a 30cm x 10cm x 10 cm, 3-unit satellite—is the first ever science CubeSat launched for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and has already met its minimum mission science criteria for data and observations.
The bread loaf-sized Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS) CubeSat will be deployed from an airlock on the International Space Station (ISS) at 4 a.m. MDT on Monday, May 16, beginning its journey into space where it will study emissions from the sun that can affect ground-based communications systems.
The NASA-funded MinXSS, designed, built, and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students and faculty at LASP and CU-Boulder’s Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department (AES), will operate in Earth’s orbit for up to 12 months. The CubeSat will be deployed from the ISS via a special deployer designed by NanoRacks, LLC.
The MinXSS will observe soft X-rays from the sun, which can disrupt Earth’s upper atmosphere and hamper radio and GPS signals traveling through the region. The intensity of the soft x-ray emissions emitted from the sun is continuously changing over a large range—with peak emission levels occurring during large eruptions on the sun called solar flares.
At any given moment, our sun emits a range of light waves far more expansive than what our eyes alone can see: from visible light to extreme ultraviolet to soft and hard X-rays. Different wavelengths can have different effects at Earth and, what’s more, when observed and analyzed correctly, those wavelengths can provide scientists with information about events on the sun. In 2012 and 2013, a detector was launched on a sounding rocket for a 15 minute trip to look at a range of sunlight previously not well-observed: soft X-rays.
A NASA-funded miniature satellite built by University of Colorado Boulder students to scrutinize solar flares erupting from the sun’s surface is the latest example of the university’s commitment to advancing aerospace technology and space science through strong partnerships with industry and government.
The $1 million Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS), led by CU-Boulder faculty in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, recently was selected by NASA for launch in January 2015 from the International Space Station.
CU-Boulder students, working under the guidance of LASP scientists and engineers, have finished building a satellite to study space weather and have sent it to California Polytechnic Institute to begin integration with launch vehicle systems. More than 50 graduate and undergraduate students have contributed to designing and building the Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE), an $840,000 CubeSat mission funded by the National Science Foundation. The satellite is scheduled to launch into low-Earth polar orbit in early August 2012 as a secondary payload under NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.
LASP/CU-Boulder students are designing and building a satellite that will study space weather—changes in near-Earth space conditions that adversely affect Earth-orbiting spacecraft and communication technologies. The Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE) is an $840,000 CubeSat mission funded by the National Science Foundation. CSSWE is scheduled to launch into low-Earth polar orbit in June 2012 as a secondary payload under NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.