Student and amateur CubeSat news roundup – June.17.2020

A sampling of recent articles, press releases, etc. related to student and amateur CubeSat / SmallSat projects and programs (find previous smallsat roundups here):

** NASA expands Cube Quest Challenge competition:  NASA Invites Competitors to Shoot for the Moon and Beyond | NASA

NASA is inviting additional teams to compete in the Cube Quest Challenge. You can still participate in the in-space phase of the challenge and be eligible to win part of a $4.5 million prize purse.

The Cube Quest Challenge, NASA’s first in-space competition, incentivizes teams to design, build and deliver small satellites capable of advanced operations near and beyond the Moon. To compete, new teams meeting the eligibility criteria must obtain a ride to deep space for their CubeSats – either through commercial launch opportunities or programs like NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative.

“We welcome new teams to join us in this challenge in pursuit of advancing space exploration,” said Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “When we established the Cube Quest Challenge in 2015, commercial flight opportunities weren’t as available. Now that technology has advanced and commercial partners are flying payloads, it is a great time to make potential participants aware of the opportunity.”

Fifteen university and private developer teams have already competed for prizes to showcase creative CubeSat technologies through ground-based tournaments, or phase one, of the Cube Quest Challenge, which was completed in 2017.

Three winners received spots as secondary payloads on Artemis I, the first integrated test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. These teams have been working on their CubeSats, readying them for launch. Once deployed from the rocket, the teams will begin phase two, the in-space competition.

In-Space Competition

All Cube Quest Challenge competitors, both new and current, will compete in one of two arenas. The Lunar Derby is where CubeSats are to maintain a verifiable lunar orbit. There’s also the Deep Space Derby, in which CubeSats reach approximately 1.8 million miles from Earth.

Once in orbit, the CubeSats must complete various tasks outlined in the competition rules document to be eligible for prize money. To ensure data integrity, each satellite must transmit NASA-provided communications data to be eligible for prize money.

The Next Frontier

“The Cube Quest Challenge opens the lunar and deep space environment, thanks to the mastery of several technologies,” said Elizabeth Hyde, a mechanical engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and technical advisor for the challenge. “The three technology areas we see as important for jumping from low-Earth orbit to deep space are communications, propulsion and radiation tolerance for CubeSats.”

Initiatives such as the Cube Quest Challenge aim to make deep space exploration more accessible and open up commercial space opportunities beyond low-Earth orbit.

“The next frontier is small satellites. Development efforts are aimed at pushing the boundaries of CubeSat exploration beyond low-Earth orbit,” Hyde said.

The competition is a part Centennial Challenges, based at the NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Centennial Challenges is a part of the Prizes and Challenges program within NASA’s  Space Technology Mission Directorate. The challenge is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

To register to compete in the challenge, visit:

For more information of NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge, visit:

For more information about NASA’s Prizes and Challenges, visit:

**  Code In Space! initiative challenges students to create software to upload and run on a CubeSat in orbit. The 1U CubeSat is named QMR-KWT.  Both the satellite and the initiative are sponsored by  the Kuwaiti company Orbital Space and developed in partnership with EnduroSat of Bulgaria. The educational program “is open to all students from all schools and universities around the world“.

The code will be uploaded to the nanosatellite from a ground station operating in UHF frequency range. The code will be executed by EnduroSat’s Onboard Computer Type I (high-performance and low-power computing platform). Code executions test results will be received by a ground station operating in UHF frequency range.

Participation can be as an

individual, or team based and should include a mentor (teacher/ university faculty member or scientist affiliated with a school or academic/ research institution)

Software apps will be selected on the basis of how well they provide

a solution for current challenge or limitation in the satellite industry or new concept that could be of value to satellite technology.

The CubeSat will get to orbit in February 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9. After deployment from the F9 upper stage, it will get to its target orbit with the help of a Momentus Vigoride transfer vehicle:

** Rocket Lab Electron rocket successfully launched the ANDESITE cubesat built by the BUSAT (Boston University SATellite) group: Rocket Lab launches Boston University’s magnetosphere experiment – As described here back in March, ANDESITE will

… release eight small satellite sensors in space to form a first-of-its-kind free-flying mesh network capable of delivering uniquely comprehensive data mapping of magnetic fields and space weather to our smart phones here on campus.”

Illustration of the ANDESITE 6U cubesat with picosat deployments. Credits: BUSAT

**  Cal Poly, birthplace of the CubeSat, gets USAF grant for smallsat program: Cal Poly Partnership with Air Force Research Laboratory Will Direct $2.5 Million to Aerospace Engineering Department

Funding Aims to Boost Mini-Satellite Program for Space Exploration

SAN LUIS OBISPO – Cal Poly’s partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory will direct roughly $2.5 million to enhance the university’s Aerospace Engineering Department and boost its mini-satellite program, which was the catalyst for a substantial expansion of space research two decades ago.

The Education Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Air Force provides a total of $5 million to be split evenly between Cal Poly and California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. Funding for the partnership was secured by three U.S. representatives from California — Salud Carbajal, Norma J. Torres and Grace Napolitano — through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 (H.R. 1158).

The EPA’s agreements between a defense laboratory and an educational institution allow the labs to provide laboratory equipment and personnel to the schools, plus career and academic advice to students while involving faculty and students in research.

The EPA will help the Air Force Research Lab pioneer transformative aerospace technologies and accelerate its long-term strategic objectives in key areas, such as energy security, energy optimization, reusability, maneuverability and multi-mission mobility.

In particular, the funds for Cal Poly will support a thermal vacuum chamber with upgraded facilities to support it. A thermal vacuum chamber can be used for testing spacecraft or spacecraft parts under a simulated space environment.

Cal Poly became a major contributor to space research roughly 20 years ago, when former Aerospace Engineering faculty member Jordi Puig-Suari co-created the CubeSat standard with Bob Twiggs of Stanford University. CubeSats are mini-satellites that are affordable and easy to make, allowing governments, schools and private companies worldwide to more easily and affordably explore space and conduct research. 

The new vacuum chamber will allow researchers to test and develop propulsion for CubeSats, allowing for greater control of the satellites for space exploration. Currently, most CubeSats cannot be controlled in space, and propulsion and maneuverability are often viewed as the next major step in CubeSat technology.

** AMSAT news on student and amateur CubeSat/smallsat projects: ANS-166 AMSAT News Service Special Bulletin

  • 38th Annual AMSAT Space Symposium and Annual General Meeting Moving to Virtual Event
  • 15 Canadian CubeSats to launch from 2021 [See also The RAC Report]
  • AMSAT Member Portal Huge Success!
  • BY70-2 with FM-to-Codec2 Transponder Scheduled for July Launch
  • Two Satellites Receive Frequency Coordination from the IARU
  • IARU Submits Paper on Increasing Noise from Digital Devices
  • New Satellite Distance Records Claimed
  • ISS Runs 6558 Astro Pi Youth Programs in 2019/20
  • Upcoming Satellite Operations
  • Hamfests, Conventions, Maker Faires and Other Events
  • ARISS News
  • Satellite Shorts from All Over

General CubeSat/SmallSat info:

** SSMS inaugural flight on Vega – ESA

Multiple small satellites will be launched at once on the Vega VV16 mission from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. This flight will demonstrate the modular SSMS dispenser resting on its upper stage intended to bring routine affordable launch opportunities for light satellites from 0.2 kg CubeSats up to 400 kg minisatellites. Until now the smallest classes of satellites – all the way down to tiny CubeSats, built from 10 cm modular boxes – have typically ‘piggybacked’ to orbit. They have to make use of any spare capacity as a single large satellite is launched, meaning their overall launch opportunities are limited. The new Vega Small Spacecraft Mission Service switches this into a ‘rideshare’ model, with multiple small satellites being flown together, splitting the launch cost…

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