Student and amateur CubeSat news roundup – July.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):

** Two CubeSats deployed this week from the ISS: Spacewalk Preps, Satellite Deployment During Bone and Heart Research – Space Station/NASA

A pair of microsatellites were deployed into Earth orbit today outside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. The Deformable Mirror CubeSat will demonstrate the performance of a tiny but powerful exo-planet telescope. The TechEdSat-10 CubeSat will test returning small payloads safely into Earth’s atmosphere.

The CubeSats were launched to the ISS on a Northrop-Grumman Antares rocket in a Cygnus cargo vehicle on February 15th of this year.

TechEdSat-10 is the latest CubeSat sponsored by the NASA Ames Technology Education Satellite (TechEdSat) program. This spacecraft was developed in collaboration with student teams at San Jose State University and the University of Idaho. The primary goal of the mission is to test technologies for low cost return of small payloads from orbit. The CubeSat will deploy a Exo-Brake, which is

a tension-based, flexible braking device resembling a cross-parachute that deploys from the rear of a satellite to increase the drag. It is a de-orbit device that replaces the more complicated rocket-based systems that would normally be employed during the de-orbit phase of re-entry.

An Exo-Brake is a parachute-like apparatus deployed from a spacecraft to increase drag in the very thin atmosphere of low earth orbit. The increased drag will hasten the satellite’s reentry. This photo shows an Exo-Brake being packed into TechEdSat-5. Credits: ASA Ames/Dominic Hart

The TecEdSat-10 mission will

… further develop the tension-based drag device (an ‘Exo-Brake’) and demonstrate frequent uplink/downlink control capability. In addition, the Exo-Brake is modulated in order to change the drag profile and then permit, for the first time, a targeting experiment. TechEdSat-10 is sized at a scale of 3 m, which permits re-entry within 4 weeks at a ßof ~5 kg/m2. Understanding the thermophysics of such a device permits it to be scaled for larger payloads and re-entry within 1.5 days.

Targeting would allow the brake to return a payload to a specific area for ease of recovery.

The Deformable Mirror CubeSat (DeMi) project is an MIT project sponsored by DARPA. Deformable mirrors are used in ground-based telescopes to cancel out distortions in stellar images caused by variations in atmospheric density, temperature, etc. For observatories in orbit, there is no atmosphere to deal with but there are various structural and optical flaws,  small strains from temperature changes, etc. The goal for this mission is to demonstrate that such imperfections can be compensated for with a deformable mirror in a space telescope.

In order to image an Earth-like planet, an exoplanet direct imaging system needs to achieve a contrast ratio of 1 × 10E−10. Even with adaptive optics on a large ground-based telescope, it is currently not possible to overcome the effects from atmospheric turbulence to achieve the high contrast needed to obtain high-resolution spectra of an Earth-like exoplanet. While a space telescope does not have to overcome the effects of atmospheric turbulence, achieving a clear image usually comes at the expense of smaller aperture size (e.g., due to launch cost and launch vehicle limitations). The performance of a space telescope will still suffer from optical imperfections, thermal distortions, and diffraction that will corrupt the wavefront, create speckles, and ruin the contrast. High actuator-count deformable mirrors have the authority to correct high spatial frequency aberrations that would otherwise degrade the contrast in these conditions.

Deformable Mirror CubeSat (DeMi) serves as an on-orbit testbed for a MEMS deformable mirror. The baseline deformable mirror payload architecture incorporates a Shack-Hartmann wavefront sensor for mirror characterization as well as a focal plane sensor for correcting an image of an external object. DeMi characterizes the on-orbit performance of a 140 actuator MEMS deformable mirror with 5.5 μm maximum stroke. The goal is to measure individual actuator wavefront displacement contributions to a precision of 12 nm. …

The ultimate goal is to enable space telescopes to image exoplanets directly:

Current space telescopes have limited ability to detect and distinguish small, dim objects such as exoplanets that are next to large, bright objects such as stars. MEMS deformable mirror technology can improve the imaging capabilities of future space telescopes.

Aurora Flight Sciences is managing the project and Blue Canyon Technologies built the spacecraft.

** AMSAT news on student and amateur CubeSat/smallsat projects: ANS-194 AMSAT News Service Special Bulletin

  • AMSAT Leadership Explains 2018-2020 Legal Expenses
  • Update on HO-107 (HuskySat-1)
  • AMSAT-DL Proposes LunART – Luna Amateur Radio Transponder
  • Buffalo Soldiers Special Event on the Satellites
  • Hamfests, Conventions, Maker Faires, and Other Events
  • Upcoming Satellite Operations
  • Upcoming ARISS Contacts
  • Satellite Shorts from All Over

** AMSAT arose from the HAM radio community and many educational and science related smallsats use amateur radio bands for communications. This article doesn’t include anything on AMSAT or amateur radio via satellites but it does give a good overview of the state of amateur radio globally: The Uncertain Future of Ham Radio – IEEE Spectrum.

General CubeSat/SmallSat info:

**  Building a CubeSat for less than $1000 — Part 3 — Avionics Schematic – Third episode in a series from RG SAT on how to build a low cost CubeSat.

Today I cover the schematic I created for the Avionics board of the Cubesat. The Avionics board essentially serves as the main computer for the Cubesat, including control of the Attitude Control System, and radio communications.

** CanSat, A CubeSat learning kit Made in IndiaWorld CanSat & Rocketry Championship – YouTube

A World CanSat/Rocketry Championship (hereinafter: WCRC) is generally an international competition open to elite competitors from around the world, representing their nations (as university student Teams or as independent student Teams), and winning this event will be considered the highest or near highest achievement in this field. The WCRC was formulated and negotiated among the Organizations from 6 countries: Serbia, India, Italy, Tunisia, Canada, and Peru (hereinafter: Founders) from October.

** Tracking CubeSats with a TelescopeBruce Van Deventer – YouTube

CubeSats are miniature satellites typically deployed into low earth orbit. A standard 1U CubeSat is a cube ten centimeters on a side. Here, I tracked three different CubeSats on the night of 6/17 at our dark site observatory. Tracking is performed blind, meaning there is no optical assist to help the telescope point to the target. These videos are shot using a Celestron RASA 11 telescope and the ZWO ASI 6200 mono camera, operated in 8 bit video mode, quarter frame size, 100ms exposure. That video is further cropped here to make it easier to find the satellite.

** Dove Satellite – Observing Earth With A Cubesat

I paid a visit to Planet, they’re one of my ‘neighbours’ in San Francisco’s SOMA district. Their business is planetary imaging and they’ve launched over 100 Dove Cubesats which are built around the largest possible camera you can fit in a cubesat.

** Aerospace CubeSats Blaze a Faster Trail to Space | The Aerospace Corporation

The challenge: Build and launch a pair of cube satellites on a tight budget and even tighter timeline. Here is how Aerospace engineers designed the Aerospace Rogue Alpha/Beta CubeSats as pathfinders for studying rapid reconstitution.

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