NASA has selected 18 small research satellites from 11 states to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets launching in 2021, 2022 and 2023. The selected CubeSats were proposed by educational institutions, nonprofit organizations and NASA centers in response to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) call for proposals issued in August 2019.
“CSLI is an amazing opportunity that provides tremendous value to NASA and the universities and organizations that design and develop CubeSat missions. It’s the perfect win-win,” said Sam Fonder, program executive, Launch Services Program. “Developers get a chance to build and test small spacecraft for research in space. NASA can use this research to assist in accomplishing its mission objectives.”
CubeSats are a type of small spacecraft. In their smallest form, they measure about four inches on each side, weigh less than three pounds, and have an approximate volume of one quart. CubeSats are built using these standard dimensions or Units (U) and are typically classified as 1U, 2U, 3U, 6U, or 12U in total size. Each selected CubeSat proposal was required to address aspects of the agency’s science, technology development, or education goals.
Launch opportunities for the selectees will be provided through the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) missions facilitated by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP). Selectees will hitch a ride with planned spaceflight missions led by NASA, other U.S. government agencies, or commercial organizations. After launch, the CubeSats will deploy into orbit from either the launch vehicle or the International Space Station.
CSLI 11th Round CubeSat Selections
The organizations and the CubeSats chosen during this selection round are:
Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
Realistic Electron Atmospheric Loss (REAL)
REAL is a scientific investigation mission designed to characterize the loss of particles from Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts. REAL will carry an energetic particle instrument that is sensitive to both electrons and protons. From its vantage point in low-Earth orbit, REAL will point its instrument along Earth’s magnetic field to measure radiation belt particles as they enter the atmosphere.
Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico
NanoSat Atmospheric Chemistry Hyperspectral Observation System (NACHOS)
NACHOS is a technology demonstration of an ultra-compact, high-resolution, hyperspectral imager that is able to monitor fossil fuel burning and low-level passive degassing at volcanoes. If successful, it will be a paradigm shift in space-borne sensing—from expensive single-platform, large-satellite instruments, to agile constellations of relatively inexpensive instruments on small satellites.
University of California, Berkeley
CubeSat Radio Interferometry Experiment (CURIE)
CURIE is a science investigation mission that will use radio interferometry to study radio burst emissions from solar eruptive events such as flares and coronal mass ejections in the inner heliosphere. It will be able to determine the location and size of radio burst source regions and then to track their movement outward from the Sun. CURIE will provide observations important to understanding the space weather environment.
QubeSat is a technology demonstration mission that will test and characterize the effects of space on quantum gyroscopes based on nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond. This sensor can be made very small while remaining accurate and can be scaled down to a much smaller form factor. It will increase the attitude determination accuracy of small spacecraft and allow it to maintain its accuracy in a high radiation environment.
University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
BAMA-1 is a technology demonstration mission that will conduct a flight demonstration of a drag sail module by rapidly deorbiting the satellite. Spacecraft equipped with drag sail technology will be able to reliably and rapidly deorbit, thus reducing space debris and the risk to operational satellites, space stations, and crewed vehicles.
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
IMpulsive Phase Rapid Energetic Solar Spectrometer (IMPRESS)
IMPRESS is a hard X-ray spectrometer sponsored by the National Science Foundation that will investigate particle acceleration in solar flares. It will perform soft and hard X-ray spectroscopy of solar flares in the rising phase of Solar Cycle 25. Solar flares play an important role in the origins of space weather that can affect the near-Earth environment.
University of Washington, Seattle
Satellite for Optimal Control and Imaging (SOC-I)
SOC-I is a technology demonstration that will demonstrate an experimental attitude control scheme on orbit and provide educational opportunities to students at the University of Washington. This 2U CubeSat will advance the technology to technology readiness level seven (TRL 7).
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
BeaverCube II is an education mission that will teach high school students aerospace science by having them design a CubeSat. BeaverCube II will host one visible and two infrared imagers to measure cloud properties, ocean surface temperatures and ocean color to study the Earth’s climate and weather systems. It also will demonstrate an application for the use of shape memory alloy technology via an on-orbit calibration technique.
University of Colorado at Boulder
MAXWELL is a technology demonstration whose primary mission is to mature and demonstrate a high rate X-band CubeSat communication downlink. The secondary goal is to mature and demonstrate a 200kbps S-band uplink that includes Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) capabilities. This mission will raise the TRL of the XTx radio, S-band receiver and T-DaHGR antenna to TRL 9.
Irvine CubeSat STEM Program, California
IRVINE04 is an education mission designed to teach, train and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals, as well as provide educational opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM-related fields. IRVINE04 includes a dosimeter that detects beta and gamma radiation and a Bio-Module that houses a growth experiment on Sulfurovum sp.—a bacteria that naturally occurs in undersea hydrothermal vents.
University of Maine, Orono
MESAT-1 is an education mission that includes three payloads developed by schools in Maine. The ALBEDO payload investigates the impact of albedo (fraction of solar irradiation reflected back into space) on local temperatures across urban and rural areas. The IMAGER payload will study a low-cost remote sensing tool for coastal estuaries. The HAB payload will study harmful algal blooms to see if they increase atmospheric temperature and water vapor levels in the atmosphere above them.
Rice University, Houston
OwlSat is a scientific investigation that will analyze the relationship between solar activity and the Earth's lower atmosphere. It will record extreme ultraviolet (EVU) radiation measurements of the Sun, the satellite’s orbital velocity and orbital position to characterize how varying EUV values impact the orbital decay rate. The data will allow for more comprehensive predictions for orbiting bodies, such as space debris and small satellites.
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California
CubeSat Laser Infrared Crosslink (CLICK B/C)
CLICK B/C is a technology demonstration that uses two 3U CubeSats and optical, or laser communications to simultaneously send and receive signals from distances up to 360 miles. With this full-duplex laser communications capability, the CubeSats can exchange more data at once than current satellites of this size. Using the same laser system, the pair also will precisely measure their distance and relative position from each other. These capabilities will aid future communications relays, distributed missions, and constellations or formations of these low-cost satellites around science-rich locations and exploration targets like the Moon. The mission is a NASA partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Florida. Blue Canyon Technologies will provide the two CubeSats for this mission.
Pathfinder Technology Demonstration (PTD-3)
PTD-3 is a 6U CubeSat that will demonstrate a new laser communications system from MIT Lincoln Laboratory capable of sending large amounts of data to ground stations from low-Earth orbit. This system could deliver up to 10 terabytes of data per day to a ground station. For reference, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope generates about 10 terabytes of data per year. Tyvak Nanosatellite Systems will provide the CubeSat and orbital operations alongside NASA.
Starling is a technology demonstration mission that will deploy a formation of identical 6U CubeSats to test multiple distributed mission technologies, including in-space networking scalable to hundreds of spacecraft, autonomous reactive operations that allow the spacecraft to reconfigure in response to external sensor data, and an optical relative navigation experiment from Stanford University. Distributed systems of small spacecraft can provide cost-effective multi-point science data collection, communications, monitoring and inspection infrastructure in Earth orbit and at exploration destinations beyond. Blue Canyon Technologies will provide the four CubeSats for this mission.
TechEdSat-12, the latest in a series of NASA student-intern built spacecraft, will be used to test several technologies intended to help better track and identify CubeSats and other small spacecraft from the ground. The CubeSat will include a radio frequency identification tag, a passive radar reflector that includes a unique spacecraft identifier, and a L-band tracking system. As the number of spacecraft are flown in Earth orbit increases and the size of those spacecraft decreases, systems such as these have the potential to aid future space situational awareness and space traffic management.
X-1 is part of a rapid technology demonstration for new communications, flight computing and avionics, and guidance navigation and control capabilities. The X-1 CubeSat will test a high-performance processor to demonstrate its performance in space and use a combination of retroreflectors and light-emitting diodes for ground tracking, spacecraft pointing, and optical communications experiments.
NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia
GPX-2 is a technology demonstration mission that will provide a novel test-bed for Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) differential global positioning systems (dGPS) that will enable future on-orbit assembly, docking, and formation-flying small satellite missions. While on-orbit, it will assess the capability of unmodified, multi-frequency COTS dGPS receivers. One receiver will operate as a base reference as well as assess absolute position accuracy from an on-orbit COTS receiver.
To date, 192 CubeSat missions from 41 states and Puerto Rico have been selected, and over 100 CubeSats have launched into space through ELaNa mission rideshare opportunities.