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Truly Educational Experiences... With Nanosats
by Jos Heyman, Senior Contributing Editor

With the winners of the University Nanosat Program-7 to be announced shortly and the commencement of the Nanosat-8 program expected in the coming months, it is appropriate to look back at this program.

HeymanFig1 In 1999 the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), in cooperation with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and NASA introduced the University Nanosat Program. The purpose of the program was to allow future space professionals, through their universities, experience a satellite development project from the moment of conception right through building and delivery of a flight-ready spacecraft.

Since 1999 more than 4,500 university students at 27 universities have taken part in this program which is, currently, in its seventh competition.

Of all the projects only a few reached flight status, or will be flown, in the near future.

This does not mean the projects were a failure. They were primarily intended to serve as educational projects. As such, each of the proposed projects can be considered to have been a success in that it achieved an educational objective.

Due to the educational nature of these projects, the ‘publicity’ effort is usually minimal, especially for those projects that ‘did not make it’. To what extent these projects simply vanished and failed to make deadlines, is, of course, a matter of pure speculation.

Starting Goal
The original program conception was to launch all completed and delivered nanosatellites via the Space Shuttle. However, following the Columbia disaster of February 1, 2003, all scientific payloads were deleted from such flights.

The initial target size was a nanosatellite with a mass of up to 35kg—over time, the mass restrictions were lifted and this resulted in larger, as well as smaller, satellites. The current program schedule is:

CPI_ad_SM0113 Fall of Even Years: Apply to next AFOSR University Nanosat BAA
Last Months of Even Years: Universities are selected and notified of pending awards
Spring of Odd Years: Kickoff Meeting: Competition Begins
Spring of Odd Years: Grants arrive at Universities
Spring (mid) of First Year: System Concept Review (SCR)
Spring (late) of First Year: System Requirements Review (SRR)
Summer (early) of First Year: Student Hands-On Training (SHOT) Workshop, Part I
Summer (late) of First Year: Preliminary Design Review (PDR) at Small Satellite Conference
Fall of First Year: Satellite Fabrication Class
Spring of Second Year: Critical Design Review (CDR) at Universities
Summer (early) of Second Year: SHOT II Workshop
Summer (late) of Second Year: Proto-Qualification Review (PQR) at Small Satellite Conference
January of Third Year: Flight Competition Review (FCR)

Nanosat-1 and -2
The Nanosat-1 and -2 competitions of January 1999 were run concurrently. The participants in Nanosat-1 were:

Stanford University and Santa Clara University with Orion (35kg) and two Emerald satellites (15kg each), which were to demonstrate formation flying in a semi-autonomous fashion. The project was cancelled.

Boston University with Constellation Pathfinder, to demonstrate the feasibility of fabricating and launching three 1kg satellites capable of collecting and returning quality scientific and engineering data for several months. No hardware was delivered and the project lapsed.

Carnegie Mellon University with Solar Blade, which was to fly the first solar sail using solar radiation pressure as its only means of propulsion and attitude control. No hardware was delivered and the project lapsed.

The participants in Nanosat-2 were divided in two, separate projects:

Arizona State University, with Sparky, New Mexico State University with Petey, and the University of Colorado at Boulder with Ralphie—all three educational institutions of higher learning cooperated in the Three Corner Sat Project (3CS), to demonstrate miniaturized components and other technologies as well as to test low-shock deployment systems for releasing satellites from a launch vehicle. The three satellite were to be launched on a Space Shuttle flight but, following the Columbia disaster, missions of this nature were cancelled. Sparkey and Ralphie eventually flew on a Delta 4 Heavy Launch Vehicle on December 21, 2004, but failed to achieve orbit. Petey was built and was donated to the National Air and Space Museum.

The University of Washington with Dawgstar, Virginia Polytech Institute and State University with HokieSat and Utah State University’s USUSat, cooperated in the Ionospheric Observation Nanosatellite Formation (ION-F) project to investigate satellite coordination while flying in formation as well as management technologies, while also measuring the distribution of the ionosphere. They were to fly on the same Space Shuttle mission as the 3CS satellites, but were all cancelled, although Dawgstar was delivered.

Nanosat 3
Nanosat-3 work started in January of 2003 and differed from Nanosat-1 and -2 as a competition based selection process was implemented for the build. All of the universities’ work would be reviewed throughout the competition and only the most complete satellite would be selected for delivery to AFRL for the flight into space. Thirteen universities participated and each university was required to deliver an Engineering Design Unit (EDU) at the end of the two year competition period. These were:

Arizona State University with ASUSat-3, which was to demonstrate emerging bio-/nano- technologies and new capabilities as well as demonstrate a micro-propulsion system.

Michigan Technological University with HuskySat, which was to measure variations in radio wave emissions that would show how much, if any, man made radiation was seeping into the frequencies characteristic of soil moisture. The project was awarded third place in the competition.

Montana State University with MAIA, which was to demonstrate new technologies including solid state charged particle sensors, deployment of a solar panel through an Elastic Memory Composite deployment hinge, and the use of solid state magneto resistive magnetometer devices as part of an active magnetic three-axis attitude control system. Hardware in this project was tested and built and the experience was transferred to the subsequent SpaceBuoy project that participated in Nanosat-5.

New Mexico State University with NMSUSat, which was to perform Near Ultra Violet (NUV) emission intensity measurements of the Earth’s upper atmosphere over the night side of the Earth.

Penn State University with LionSat, which was to investigate the local ambient and perturbed plasma environments surrounding a small satellite in the Earth’s ionosphere, to measure the ambient plasma environment and the ram and wake regions using a novel hybrid plasma probe instrument; and to test a miniature RF ion thruster system.

HeymanFig2 Taylor University with the Thunderstorm Effects in Space and Technology (TEST) nanosatellite, which was to carry a plasma probe, a UI photometer and spectrometer, a transient photometer, dual energetic particle spectrometers, VLF receiver, educational pods, and amateur radio communication instruments. This project won second place and the knowledge was shared with Boston University for use in their BUSat project for Nanosat-5.

University of Colorado at Boulder with Deployment and Intelligent Nanosatellite Operations (DINO), to generate topographic maps of the tops of clouds through stereoscopic imaging based on photographs from the on-board digital cameras, with most processing done on the satellite itself.

University of Hawaii at Manoa with Hokolua (Twin Stars), two satellites connected by a tether to determine whether the materials used were appropriate for the connection as well as to study and perform thermal stress analysis. Each of the satellites would be 10x10x17cm.

University of Michigan with FENIX

Utah State University with USUSat II, which was to measure the intensity of EUV in the F region of the ionosphere for tomographic reconstruction of vertical plasma density profile. Hardware was built and tested and the experience flowed on to USUSat III (TOROID I), a Nanosat-4 project.

HeymanFig3University of Texas at Austin with FASTRAC, two satellites to investigate technologies for flying in formation, including on-orbit micro-thrust capability, relative navigation, attitude determination, and satellite crosslink communications. This project won first place and the spacecraft were delivered to AFRL in June of 2006 for integration into the STP-S26 payload, which was launched with a Minotaur 4/HAPS on November 20, 2010—the second satellite did not separate until March 20, 2011.

Washington University at St. Louis with the Akoya and Bandit satellites, which were to demonstrate remote operations of a 1kg service vehicle (Bandit) from a 30kg spacecraft (Akoya) as the parent vehicle. This would have included repeatable docking and station keeping. The knowledge flowed on to a similarly named project for Nanosat-4.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute with the Powder Metallurgy and Navigation Satellite (PANSAT), to demonstrate a GPS based navigation and orientation determination system and the use of a powder metallurgy (P/M) component design methods to develop the primary satellite bus structure.

The fourth Nanosat competition began in March of 2005. By this time, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center was no longer involved—11 universities took part in this competition. The participating universities included:

Cornell University with CUSat, two satellites to demonstrate the use of centimeter accuracy carrier-phase differential GPS for the autonomous navigation of the two satellites. CUSat was selected as the winner and was delivered to AFRL in April 2008 and is scheduled to be launched from Vandenberg AFB in early 2013 via a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

New Mexico State University with NMSUSat-2, to demonstrate control of the platform via passive means. Once this control was to be achieved, the satellite was to conduct robotic motions using a dual-arm robot attached to the satellite.

Santa Clara University with ON-board autonomY eXperiment, (ONYX), to demonstrate advanced technology and design processes for fast-paced, low-cost satellite development as well as operationally validate advanced, distributed space system control techniques while conducting an Earth observing mission.

Texas A&M University with AggieSat-1, which was to carry three technology experiments: A simple microsatellite propulsion system using water as the propellant; a versatile miniature positioning mechanism using a reusable shape memory alloy as the actuator; and an enzymatic energy source using glucose as the fuel. Knowledge was carried forward to AggieSat-2, which was launched as Dragonsat-2 on July 30, 2009.

HeymanFig4University of Central Florida with KnightSat, with the primary goal of obtaining a stereo image of one point on the Earth’s surface.

University of Cincinnati with BEARSat, to test a solar collector.

University of Minnesota with MinneSat, to perform an experiment to determine its attitude using GPS data.

University of Missouri at Rolla with UMRSat, the study of two satellites flying in coupled flight as well as formation flight. This project was in third place. It was further developed as projects in the Nanosat-6 and -7 competitions.

University of Texas at Austin with Autonomous Rendezvous and rapid Turnaround Experiment Maneuverable Inspection Satellite (ARTEMIS), to demonstrate rapid, plug-n-play integration and operation of two small satellites, one of which would be capable of autonomous rendezvous, visual inspection, and crosslink with the other. The project evolved into the 2-STEP project of the Nanosat-5 competition.

Utah State University with TOmographic Remote Observer of Ionospheric Disturbances (TORIOD) I, to measure the airglow due to electron and oxygen ion recombination in the 150 to 600 km altitude region and vertical density profiles of the night time ionospheric plasma. Also known as USUSat III, the knowledge was carried forward to TOROID II in the Nanosat-5 program.

Washington University at St. Louis with Akoya and Bandit-C, to demonstrate on-orbit navigation and control of two 5kg service vehicles (Bandit-C) by a 25kg host vehicle (Akoya). This project, which was a development of the Nanosat-3 project, won second place.

Nanosat-5 started in January 2007. In this competition, the size requirement imposed by a Shuttle launch was dropped, allowing universities to build larger satellites. Eleven universities took part and the participants were:

Boston University with BUSat-1, to acquire energetic electron data at high latitudes as well as to simultaneously acquire optical images of auroral arcs from horizon to horizon.

Michigan Technological University with Oculus, to demonstrate a Narrow Field of View (NFOV) imager for tracking and monitoring of objects in space, using two deployable cubesats as targets.

Montana State University with SpaceBuoy, which was to measure several ionospheric plasma parameters essential to space weather forecasting.

HeymanFig5Penn State University with NittanySat, to investigate the high-latitude D-region of the ionosphere and its effects on radio frequency communications.

Santa Clara University with Obsidian, to develop a robotic positioning system for biotech instrumentation which included the integration of synthetic biological “cells” with a micro-fluidic system to grow the samples, and the provision of a controlled environment to sustain biological growth.

Texas A&M University with AggieSat-3, to demonstrate close proximity navigation using a stereo vision system in an advancement towards autonomous rendezvous and docking missions.

University of Colorado at Boulder with Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Experiment (DANDE), to perform drag and neutral density measurements of the low Earth atmosphere in order to further research in space weather and atmospheric models. DANDE was declared the winner in January 2009 and the payload is expected to be flown in 2013.

University of Minnesota with Goldeneye, to validate the use of a GPS bistatic radar for remote sensing applications with small satellites in low Earth orbit. This project was based on the Nanosat-4 MinneSat project.

University of Texas at Austin with 2-STEP, two satellites, a larger chaser satellite and a smaller target, to demonstrate navigation and guidance through a rendezvous and on-orbit inspection mission. It was based on the ARTEMIS project of the Nanosat-4 competition.

Utah State University with TOROID II, to measure vertical density profiles of the night time ionospheric plasma density distribution using an Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) Photometer. It was based on the TOROID I project of the Nanosat-4 competition.

Washington State University at St. Louis with Akoya-B and Bandit C, to demonstrate remote operations of a 3kg service vehicle (Bandit-C) from a 29kg spacecraft (Akoya-B) as parent vehicle. Tests were to include repeatable docking and station keeping. This project won second place and was a development of similar project submitted for Nanosat-3 and -4.

Ten universities participated in Nanosat-6 which commenced in January 2009. These were:

HeymanFig6Cornell University with Violet, to demonstrate novel CMG steering laws along with an operationally responsive, high-agility space-imaging system. It won second place.

University of Central Florida with KnightSat-2, to demonstrate a Propellantless Space Debris Mitigation Drag Sail for LEO Satellites using an Attitude Control and Aerodynamic Drag Sail (ACADS).

University of Hawaii at Manoa with Ho’oponopono, to provide orbital radar calibration support to the U.S. Air Force by collecting and disseminating ephemeris data in response to radar interrogations. It won third place and was re-submitted as part of the Nanosat-7 program.

Santa Clara University with Intelligent Responsive Imaging Spacecraft (IRIS), to undertake an estuarine science and ecology program by performing critical imaging and communications services.

Missouri University of Science and Technology, formerly known as University of Missouri at Rolla, with M-SAT, consisting of two microsatellites, Missouri Rolla Satellite (MR-SAT) and Missouri Rolla Second Satellite (MRS-SAT). The satellites were designed to be launched as a single unit, then separate and maintain a specific flight formation. In this maneuver, MR-SAT would ‘pursue’ MRS-SAT and circumnavigate it. This was a development of the URMSat project of Nanosat-4 and was further developed as a project of Nanosat-7.

Michigan Technological University with Oculus-ASR, carrying equipment that would allow for the calibration of ground based instruments to track the shapes of orbital satellites. It won the competition and will be launched in 2013.

University of Minnesota with Twin Sat, an extension of the GoldenEye Nanosat-5 project, this time instead of sensing the Earth’s surface, this satellite was to use GPS to sense other satellites in space.

Georgia Tech with Rapid Reconnaissance and Response (R3), to demonstrate a microbolometer, a new type of thermal imager that would give small satellites the capability to perform thermal infrared imaging, a capability previously reserved for large, expensive satellites.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology with CASTOR or Orbital Surveillance Maneuverability Vehicle (OSMV), to demonstrate on-orbit performance of the Diverging Cusped-Field Thruster, which would have provided enough velocity increment to reach the Moon.

St. Louis University with COPPER, a cubesat to capture infrared video of co-manifested satellites during separation and to capture infrared images of Earth’s oceans and atmosphere.

The Nanosat-7 competition commenced in March 2011 and 11 universities participated...

HeymanFig7Boston University with BUSat-2, to explore the relationship between the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere by observing auroral characteristics and atmospheric interactions. The basic scientific payloads are the Auroral Imager (AI) and the Compact Half-Unit Imaging Electron Spectrometer (CHICO). The goal is to also include a Langmuir Plasma Probe, a microdosimeter, and a Very Low Frequency (VLF) receiver.

Georgia Tech with Prox-1, to demonstrate autonomous safe trajectory control, with a cubesat to be ejected from Prox-1. Prox-1 will then rendezvous and fly around the cubesat. Prox-1 will use image-based observations for navigation and closed-loop attitude control and will be fitted with a microbolometer thermal imager to acquire thermal images of the target and a visible camera to acquire visible images of the target.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Trapped Energetic Radiation Satellite (TERSAT), to use an electromagnetic punch to knock harmful high-energy particles out of the inner Van Allen Radiation Belt and help protect satellites.

Missouri University of Science and Technology with M-SAT, a development of the project in Nanosat-6 that included several improvements to the original design.

Montana State University with a development of the SpaceBuoy of the Nanosat-5 competition.

St. Louis University with Argus, a 2U cubesat to improve the predictive performance modeling of radiation effects on small, modern space electronics devices by collecting radiation particle collision data from electronics.

HeymanFig8State University of New York at Buffalo with Glados, to provide photometric and radiometric data of unresolved space objects—specifically that of other satellites.

University of Hawaii at Manoa with a continuation of Nanosat-6’s Ho’oponopono project.

University of Maryland with Dynamic Manipulation Flight Experiment (Dymaflex), to demonstrate precision manipulator motion on free-flier and validate advanced control schemes for dynamic vehicle motion.

University of Michigan with CubeSat Investigating Atmospheric Density Response to Extreme Driving (CADRE), to solve orbital determination problems with accuracy using an earth gravitational model of degree and order of one’s choosing and measure the satellite’s position.

University of Texas at Austin with Attitude Related Maneuvers and Debris Instrumentation in Low (L) Orbit (ARMADILLO), a 3U cubesat to will study and characterize sub-millimeter space debris particles currently in LEO using a Piezo Dust Detector (PDD). Additionally, ARMADILLO will obtain radio occultation measurements by collecting GPS measurements using a dual frequency, software-defined FOTON GPS receiver.

The winner of the Nanosat-7 competition is expected to be announced in March 2013.

The eighth Nanosat program will commence in January 2013 and, as of this writing, there is no indication which universities are participating in the competition. HeymanHead

About the author
Jos Heyman is the Managing Director of Tiros Space Information, a Western Australian consultancy specializing in the dissemination of information on the scientific exploration and commercial application of space for use by educational as well as commercial organisations. An accountant by profession, Jos is the editor of the TSI News Bulletin and is also a regular contributor to the British Interplanetary Society’s Spaceflight journal.