August 11, 2012

NASA Announces Three Small Spacecraft Demonstration Missions

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA announced that it has chosen three teams for small spacecraft technology demonstration missions.

The space agency chose the teams to advance the state of the art for small spacecraft in the areas of communications, formation flying and docking systems.

It said the space technology flights are expected to start taking place sometime between 2014 and 2015.

All of the selected missions will employ nanosatellites conforming to the CubeSat standard, which are composed of four-inch, cube-shaped units. Each of these units will have a volume of about one quart and a weight of about three pounds.

CubeSats can be joined to create multiple-unit spacecraft, and they can also be ready to accommodate secondary payloads or rideshares on a number of space launch vehicles.

"NASA's Small Spacecraft Technology Program is structured to advance the capabilities and technologies associated with small, low cost space missions to enhance NASA's ability to conduct more with less," Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program at Headquarters in Washington, said in a press release. "These flights validate new space technologies and capabilities prior to infusion into NASA science and exploration applications and missions."

One of the three missions selected include the Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA) for High Bandwidth CubeSat.

This mission will demonstrate radio communication system that dramatically boosts the amount of data that the small satellite can transmit by using the back of its solar array as a reflector for the antenna.

The second mission selected is the Integrated Optical Communications and Proximity Sensors for Cubesats. This mission will demonstrate a laser communication system for sending large amounts of information from a satellite to Earth, and also include a low-cost radar and optical sensors to help the spacecraft maneuver one another.

The third mission, or the Proximity Operations Nano-Satellite Flight Demonstration mission, will demonstrate rendezvous and mechanical docking of small spacecraft in orbit. This project is expected to take three years and about $13.5 million in funding to develop, launch and operate.

NASA's Small Spacecraft Technology Program is designed to develop new subsystem technologies to enhance or expand the capabilities of small spacecraft.

The program will support flight demonstrations of new small spacecraft technologies, capabilities and applications. The program will also support the use of small spacecraft as platforms to test and demonstrate technologies and capabilities that may have applications in spacecraft and systems of any size.