Secondary payloads launched with Landsat begin to be commissioned – Spaceflight Now

Boston University students work with the CuPID spacecraft during pre-launch tests. Credit: NASA

Ground crews are testing three small CubeSats launched with the Landsat 9 remote sensing satellite last month, preparing the small spacecraft for exoplanet observations and communication experiments. NASA says engineers have not made contact with another CubeSat designed for space weather research.

Four CubeSats were launched as carpooling payloads with the Landsat 9 mission on September 27 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. The Atlas 5 successfully deployed the Landsat 9 satellite, a joint project between the NASA and the US Geological Survey in a 420-mile-high (675-kilometer) polar orbit after lift-off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The Atlas 5’s Centaur upper stage maneuvered at a lower altitude to release four CubeSats carried inside dispensers on a secondary payload adapter.

The small secondary payloads – two for NASA and two sponsored by the U.S. Army’s Defense Innovation Unit – were ejected from the carrier modules on the Centaur stage, according to ULA.

One of the CubeSats, named CuPID, was built to study the interactions between solar activity and the Earth’s magnetic field, probing the dynamics that impact space weather. The Cusp Plasma Imaging Detector, or CuPID, carries instruments to measure the X-rays emitted when the solar wind plasma collides with neutral atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA spokeswoman Denise Hill said Thursday that ground crews are still trying to establish contact with CuPID. These attempts are taking longer than expected, Hill said, but officials are not giving up. They keep trying to acquire signals from the CubeSat.

CuPID, based on a 6U CubeSat platform, was developed by students and researchers at Boston University. Team members did not respond to multiple requests for updates on the small satellite.

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket takes off on September 27 with the Landsat 9 satellite and four CubeSat payloads in carpooling. Credit: United Launch Alliance

The spacecraft is roughly the size of a toaster oven and houses the first wide-field-of-view soft x-ray camera to fly into orbit. The CuPID data was intended to complement research conducted on larger NASA missions, such as the Multiscale Magnetospheric Mission, by observing how the Earth’s magnetosphere responds to inputs from the sun.

Interactions between solar activity and the Earth’s magnetosphere determine space weather, which can disrupt communications, power grids, and satellite operations.

Another NASA-backed CubeSAT, known as CUTE, carries a small telescope to observe the atmospheres of planets outside our solar system. Officials wrote on the mission’s website that ground crews were successful in establishing a communication link with the CUTE spacecraft after launch.

The Colorado Ultraviolet Transit experiment is funded by the Astrophysics Division of NASA. The small spaceship will observe the transits of giant planets in front of other host stars. These planets, called “hot Jupiters,” orbit near their stars, where their atmospheres become superheated, potentially allowing gas molecules to escape into space, according to NASA.

CUTE will watch at least 10 of the giant planets cross in front of their stars, observing five to 10 transits per planet in about seven months, NASA said.

Arika Egan, a graduate student from the University of Colorado, is leading the installation of CUTE CubeSat in its distribution system at Space Force Base Vandenberg on July 23, 2021. Credit: NASA

The satellite will measure how the star’s ultraviolet light changes as it passes through the planet’s atmosphere.

“Key elements of the planet’s atmosphere, such as magnesium and iron, absorb near ultraviolet light, providing clear evidence of their presence,” NASA said in a press release. “By taking repeated measurements of these atmospheric elements for the same planets, CUTE will help us understand how quickly these planets lose their atmosphere and how this changes over time.”

CUTE “examines an important process that we believe also matters here in solar system, namely the loss of an atmosphere, ”said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief scientist at NASA. “Remember, Mars had a much thicker layer the atmosphere around the planet.

The results of missions like CUTE could help scientists understand planetary evolution, especially how planets maintain the conditions for life.

Artist’s illustration of CubeSats CesiumAstro Mission 1 CubeSats after deployment from a distributor on the top Centaur stage of the Atlas 5 rocket. Credit: CesiumAstro

The two military-sponsored CubeSats launched alongside Landsat 9 were developed by an Austin, Texas-based company called CesiumAstro to test advanced communications technologies.

The two small satellites are part of the Cesium 1 mission, developed in partnership with the Defense Innovation Unit, which is part of the US Department of Defense. CesiumAstro said in a press release that engineers are planning a month of checks on the two spacecraft before starting the experimental phase of the mission.

Satellites carry active phased array communication systems and inter-satellite links. The US Space Force said the mission will demonstrate dynamic waveform switching and dynamic link optimization capabilities.

“CM1 provides a two-satellite in-orbit platform for customer experiences that push the boundaries of small satellite communication,” says CesiumAstro on its website.

Send an email to the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *