Skip to main content

Tiny CubeSats are making space more accessible for study ... in a big way

CubeSat in space. Image courtesy of NASA.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a … CubeSat?

Small, boxy, cost-effective nanosatellites are helping to change the way we explore space. Not only are they making low Earth orbit (LEO) space exploration more accessible due to cheap production, but they can be used in both commercial and amateur projects, making applications versatile.

Originally, CubeSats were invented by researchers at California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University to “enable graduate students to design, build, test and operate limited capabilities of artificial satellites within the time and financial constraints of a graduate degree program,” Space Daily reported recently. This was accomplished by establishing a standard CubeSat dimension of 10x10x11 cubic units — small enough to speed up the process and ensure low costs.

(A search on CubeSats literature in the SPIE Digital Library provides insights into how the technology has developed.)


CubeSats in the 'ignorosphere'

Recently, CubeSats were deployed in a mission to gather data from a region of space that was previously uncharted.

Known by some scientists as the “ignorosphere,” because of the limited knowledge of it, Earth’s lower thermosphere cannot support planes, balloons, or standard satellites. In addition, it holds both the hottest and coldest air on Earth, according to New Scientist. Due to this “Bermuda Triangle” effect, efforts to study the mysteries of the ignorosphere have been futile — until this year.

In April 2017, an international mission, QB50, set out to explore the lower thermosphere. The CubeSats launched in a “string of pearls” formation. QB50 project manager Davide Masutti explained in a NewScientist article that the CubeSats will be able to measure various components of the thermosphere, including density and temperature, as they freefall. In doing so, scientists hope to gather data from multiple levels of the thermosphere, thus having a more complete picture of this mysterious area.

Selection of CubeSats that are part of the QB50 mission.
Image courtesy of the QB5O Consortium/NASA.

In addition to data collection in the lower thermosphere, QB50 has three other mission objectives: to facilitate access to space, provide In-Orbit Demonstration, and educate university students. They accomplished the latter by inviting students from around the world to help build the CubeSats that were launched into space.

The “young engineers, supervised by experienced staff at their universities and guided by the QB50 project … will not only learn about space engineering in theory but will leave their universities with hands-on experience,” the site notes.

More information about the mission is on their website.


Upcoming CubeSats presentations

What other missions are deploying CubeSats?

Thomas Pagano
Thomas Pagano, Principal Investigator and Project Manager of the CubeSat Infrared Atmospheric Sounder (CIRAS) at NASA JPL, will be giving a talk about his team’s latest project involving CubeSats at SPIE Optics + Photonics 2017 in San Diego, California.

On 9 August in the Remote Sensing plenary session, Pagano will provide insight into CIRAS, and what NASA hopes to accomplish by launching this satellite in late 2018. He will also be presenting a paper in the Earth Observing Systems conference about the design and development of CIRAS.

In addition to Pagano’s plenary talk, multiple papers will be presented on the topic of CubeSats.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Glass ceiling, sticky floor: countering unconscious bias in photonics

Who knew … until last year: Three African-American women working — in obscurity — for NASA as mathematicians played a vital role in the mission that sent astronaut John Glenn into orbit around Earth and brought him back again, in 1962.
Publication of Margot Lee Shetterly's book Hidden Figures and the subsequent release of the acclaimed 2016 film brought the story of the important roles played by Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson to light for the first time for many.
While their story may have been little known for decades, struggles for opportunity and inclusion are familiar to many women and to members of under-represented minorities or other groups working to make a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field.
Findings on gender equity from the latest SPIE Optics and Photonics Global Salary report indicate that women in the field lag behind men in salary and in representation in management and senior academic positions.
The cost…

#FacesofPhotonics: Rising Researcher Alina Zare

SPIE's #FacesofPhotonics is sharing the story of Alina Zare, Associate Professor at the The Machine Learning and Sensing Lab at the University of Florida. Dr. Zare was recognized as a 2018 Rising Researcher for her work in Electronic Imaging & Signal Processing, at the SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing conference.

This program recognizes early career professionals who conduct outstanding research in the defense, commercial, and scientific sensing, imaging, optics, or related fields. If you want to learn more about the program, the details are here.

Enjoy the interview with Alina!

1. Tell us about when you first became interested in optics and photonics. In my senior year of  undergraduate studies in computer science, I was taking an Image Processing elective.  I really enjoyed the course, and the professor for the class, Dr. Gerhard Ritter, encouraged me to do some undergraduate research.  
So I joined Dr. Paul Gader's research lab as a undergraduate researcher where I he…

Changing life as we know it: the Internet of Things and cyber-physical sensing

More than 20 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices are expected to be deployed within the next few years; by 2025, this number may reach as much as 1 trillion connected devices. Driven by growth in cloud computing, mobile communications, networks of data-gathering actuators and sensors, and artificial intelligence with machine learning, this trend will change how we live our lives.
Already we live among connected devices in our homes.

Increasingly, we will also wear them, drive them, and monitor our health via the IoT. More businesses will build, ship, and design products and manage inventory with connected devices. In our cities, transportation, communications, and security infrastructure, and services such as water distribution and energy management will employ IoT applications. Farmers will find many uses, from insuring the health of livestock to increasing crop productivity.
Several conferences scheduled for SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing 2018 (15 through 19 April in Orland…