CINEMA Nanosatellite Part Of Group Of CubeSats To Go Into Space
August 1, 2012

CINEMA Nanosatellite Part Of Group Of CubeSats To Go Into Space

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

University of California, Berkeley students are part of an international team of students that built an 8-pound satellite that will be launched into orbit tomorrow (August 2) along with ten other CubeSats -- a new line of inexpensive, modular nanosatellites. The nanosatellites will accompany a spy satellite aboard an Atlas V rocket being launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California.

The nanosatellite, called CINEMA (CubeSat for Ions, Neutrals, Electrons, & MAgnetic fields) was designed, developed and built by 45 students over a three-year period. The schools involved include: University of California, Berkeley, Kyung Hee University in Korea, Imperial College London, Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, and University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez.

“This is a new way of doing space research, funded by the National Science Foundation with launch arranged by NASA,” said CINEMA principal investigator Robert Lin, professor emeritus of physics and former director of UC Berkeley´s Space Sciences Laboratory. “This is our first try, but if everything works, we´re going to get a lot of good science out of this.”

The CINEMA satellite will observe and obtain images of an electrical current that encircles the Earth, known as the “ring current.” This ring current has been known to blow out power grids on Earth during large magnetic space storms. If CINEMA proves successful, it will be joined by three identical satellites -- two from Korea and one from NASA -- and together will continue to monitor the ring current for signs of dangerous activity. Those three CubeSats are expected to launch sometime next year.

The current group of nanosatellites will launch just after midnight PDT on Thursday, August 2 at VAFB. The team at UC Berkeley hope to be able to communicate with the satellite as it passes over California around noon PDT, and have it fully operational within a week.

Of the 11 nanosatellites, 5 have been built by universities and the other 6 are either military or commercial-grade. The main satellite, NROL-36, is commissioned by the US National Reconnaissance Office.

Lin has overseen the construction and testing of CINEMA for the past three years. Including the 25 students from Berkeley, the team also consisted of 10 students from Korea and another 8 from Puerto Rico.

Lin said these types of projects are risky because 90 percent of the work is done by students using common off-the-shelf products, much of which is not radiation-proof. “But it is cheaper and has the latest hardware. I will be very impressed if it lasts more than a year in orbit,” he added.

CINEMA carried a new instrument called STEIN, which detects energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) to produce an image of the ring current. The team is hoping STEIN will be able to reveal the energy and location of charged particles that make up the ring current.

“It´s like astronomy, but using neutral particles instead of light to create an image,” Lin said.

STEIN, with 32 particle detectors fabricated by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is equipped with electronics miniaturized by CEA Saclay in Paris so as to fit into the same space as four of Lin´s earlier detectors. The detectors should also use one-thirtieth the power of his earlier counterparts.

CINEMA is also equipped with MAGIC (MAGnetometer from Imperial College) London. MAGIC  will measure changes in Earth´s magnetic field caused by magnetic storms, as well as provide vital clues about the orientation of the satellite as it orbits Earth.

Lin and colleagues will communicate with CINEMA through Berkeley´s Mission Operations Center and Ground Station, a radio dish in the Berkeley hills.

CINEMA is part of NASA´s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which provides an opportunity for small satellite payloads to fly as auxiliary payloads on larger missions. The nanosatellites are made of cubes, each approximately 64 cubic inches in size and weighing about 2 pounds, and grouped into twos or threes for a particular satellite; CINEMA is comprised of three cubes.

Read more on the students involved in the CINEMA project here.