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.
NASA will soon have new eyes on the Sun. Two miniature satellites designed and built at LASP are scheduled to launch later this month on Spaceflight’s SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The new missions—called the Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer-2 (MinXSS-2) and the Compact Spectral Irradiance Monitor (CSIM)—will collect data on the physics of the Sun and its impact on life on Earth.
These “CubeSats,” which are smaller than a microwave oven, are set to blast into a near-Earth orbit alongside more than 60 other spacecraft. According to Spaceflight, SSO-A is the largest dedicated rideshare mission from a U.S.-based launch vehicle to date.
The University of Colorado Boulder’s cross-campus Grand Challenge initiative this week announced the selection of three new additions to its portfolio starting this fall. The call for proposals, which was announced in June, funded one large research initiative at approximately $1 million per year and two smaller projects at $250,000 per year, each for at least three years. LASP will collaborate on the research initiative and on one of the two smaller projects.
The selections augment the current Grand Challenge portfolio, building on the accomplishments of Earth Lab, Integrated Remote and In Situ Sensing (IRISS), the university’s space minor, and the Center for the Study of Origins.