FASTSAT Nearing End Of Mission
November 30, 2012

Low-Cost Mini Satellite Mission Coming To An End

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA said that its Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite (FASTSAT) mission is coming to an end after two successful years.

FASTSAT was able to help demonstrate a capability to build, deploy and operate a science and technology flight mission at lower costs than what had been previously thought.

The mission used off-the-shelf commercial hardware and the satellite itself weighed slightly less than 400 pounds. FASTSAT carried six technology and atmospheric science experiments to help it conduct innovative research.

"FASTSAT demonstrated that an 'outside the box' solution afforded a highly synergistic concept which satisfied experiment, payload and launch schedule requirements," Mark Boudreaux, FASTSAT project manager at the Marshall Center, said in a statement. "This successful mission brings us closer to realizing a unique, small-satellite platform and the environment needed to perform low-cost research in space."

The mission launched in November 2010 and served as an autonomous research laboratory in low-Earth orbit. It contained all the necessary resources to conduct scientific and technology research operations for all onboard experiments.

"This project has validated the effectiveness of a commercial/government partnership, leveraging the resources and capabilities of Dynetics and the expertise of the Marshall Space Flight Center," Steve Cook, Dynetics´ director of Space Technologies, said in a statement.

Marty Kress, executive director of the Von Braun Center for Science & Innovation, said the mission helped to provide comprehensive and cost-effective capability. He added that it helped offer "affordable and flexible access to space for a diverse set of users."

"Such a minisatellite capability is an invaluable asset, making future partnerships between government, industry and academia more viable and mutually beneficial than ever before," Kress said in the statement.

FASTSAT helped to test low-technology-readiness experiments, such as the Miniature Imager for Neutral Ionspheric Atoms and Magnetospheric Electrons (MINI-ME).

MINI-ME continues to collect data on natural atoms and electrons from Earth's magnetosphere. Data collected with the experiment is helping NASA scientists and engineers design two similar instruments for a sounding rocket mission planned for 2013.

"Among the MINI-ME science results are the first observations of neutral molecular outflow," Mike Collier, principal investigator for MINI-ME, said. "Data from MINI-ME are helping the VISIONS investigators optimize the mission science return."

Another experiment called the Plasma Impedance Spectrum Analyzer (PISA) completed 15,000 hours of observations and gathered more than 15 gigabytes of raw data.

"FASTSAT has been a great opportunity to test the PISA instrument concept, while gathering valuable data about how the ionosphere changes over time as the sun gets closer to its 11-year peak of activity," said Doug Rowland, principal investigator for PISA. "We've seen the ionosphere go from being 'depressed' close to launch, to a more 'inflated' state over the last two years."

He said that with the need for improved understanding of our space environment, cost-effective methods like FASTSAT are going to become more important for providing low-cost, flexible platforms for space environment monitoring.