NASA invests in aerospace start-up, university projects on CubeSat platform

NASA invests in aerospace start-up, university projects on CubeSat platform

InVEST program aims to flight qualify technologies and new measurement concepts through spaceborne demonstrations to technical readiness level (TRL)-7.
NASA Science Mission Directorate officials in Washington are funding three new projects selected from a pool of 25 received in response to the NASA Earth Science Technology Office’s (ESTO’s) solicitation for the In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) program element A.49 of ROSES (Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences) 2017, supporting the Earth Science Division (Solicitation NNH17ZDA001N). 
 
NASA’s ESTO oversees the InVEST program, designed to enable new technologies and measurement concepts to be validated in space prior to use in a science mission. ESTO’s InVEST program aims to flight qualify technologies and new measurement concepts through spaceborne demonstrations to technical readiness level (TRL)-7. 
 
From space-borne instruments and components to data systems and modeling, ESTO funds and develops a broad range of technologies for the scientific observation and measurement of Earth. ESTO technologies are also used for NASA operational requirements as well as practical applications that benefit society at large, officials say.

A set of NanoRacks CubeSats is photographed by an Expedition 38 crew member after the deployment by the NanoRacks Launcher attached to the end of the Japanese robotic arm. Credits: NASA
A set of NanoRacks CubeSats is photographed by an Expedition 38 crew member after the deployment by the NanoRacks Launcher attached to the end of the Japanese robotic arm. (Image courtesy NASA)

 “The space environment imposes stringent conditions on components and systems, some of which cannot be fully tested on the ground or in airborne systems. Because of the harsh conditions, there has been, and continues to be, a need for new technologies to be validated in space prior to use in a science mission,” NASA officials say. “The In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) program element is intended to fill that gap.”
 
This InVEST solicitation was targeted at small instruments and instrument subsystems that can advance technology to enable relevant Earth science measurements. The call was limited to in-space validation only and targeted to the CubeSat platform.
 
CubeSats, a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites, are built to standard dimensions or units (U) of 10 centimeters (cm) x 10 cm x 10 cm. They can be 1U, 2U, 3U, or 6U in size, and typically weigh less than 1.33 kilograms (kg) or 3 pounds per U.
 
The total first-year funding for these three new projects is approximately $4 million, shared among the following three recipients – including one aerospace start-up company and two universities.

A set of NanoRacks CubeSats is photographed by an Expedition 38 crew member after the deployment by the NanoRacks Launcher attached to the end of the Japanese robotic arm. Credits: NASA
 
Thomas George, SaraniaSat Inc. in Los Angeles
Hyperspectral Thermal Imager (HyTI)
Design, build, assemble, test, and fly a 6U CubeSat Low Earth Orbital (LEO) demonstration of HyTI as a “pathfinder” enabling the next generation of high spatial, spectral, and temporal resolution thermal infrared (TIR) imagery acquisition from LEO.
 
James Garrison, Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
SNOOPI: SigNals-Of-Opportunity P-band Investigation
SigNals of Opportunity: P-band Investigation (SNoOPI) will be the first on-orbit demonstration of P-band 240-380 megahertz (MHz) signals of opportunity (SoOp). SNoOPI will demonstrate an innovative instrument that shows promise for measuring root-zone soil moisture (RZSM) and snow water equivalent (SWE) from space.
 
David Harber, University of Colorado, Boulder 
Compact Total Irradiance Monitor Flight Demonstration

Total solar irradiance (TSI) has been measured from space by a 40-year uninterrupted sequence of instruments. [Harber and his team] propose to build and fly a next-generation TSI instrument on a 6U CubeSat, the Compact Total Irradiance Monitor (CTIM). This instrument will meet the measurement requirements of the previous generation instruments while being compact enough to fit on CubeSat platform and use silicon-based vertically aligned carbon nanotube (VACNT) bolometers.

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Courtney E. Howard is editorial director and content strategist at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group. Contact her by e-mail at courtney.howard@sae.org
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