Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 13:32 EDT

ULA Atlas V Rocket Launches Twelve CubeSats, NRO Defense Satellite

December 9, 2013
Image Caption: Artist's concept of the Intelligent Payload Experiment (IPEX) and M-Cubed/COVE-2, two NASA Earth-orbiting cube satellites ("CubeSats") that were launched as part of the NROL-39 GEMSat mission from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Dec. 5, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Taking advantage of a recent launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), 12 tiny cube satellites, called CubeSats, were put into orbit as part of a future NASA missions.

The launch, which took place on Dec. 5 at 11:14pm PST, put the 12 CubeSats and the NRO’s NROL-39 national defense GEMSat mission into space successfully.

“Today’s successful launch of the NROL-39 mission is a testament to the tremendous government-industry partnership. We greatly appreciate the teamwork with the NRO Office of Space Launch and our many mission partners,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “We are honored to be entrusted to launch these one-of-a-kind national assets to orbit to protect our national security and to support the many brave men and women serving around the world.”

Of the 12 CubeSats, two have been deemed research satellites that will help validate new hardware and software technologies for future NASA Earth-observing instruments. These two small satellites, developed by university and industry partners of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), will help enable near-real-time processing capabilities relevant to future climate science measurements.

One of the CubeSats was developed in collaboration with California Polytechnic State University and is called the Intelligent Payload Experiment (IPEX). It will enable imagery to be transmitted more rapidly from satellite missions back to Earth. By using new software and algorithms, this CubeSat will be able to sift through data, looking for the most important images that scientists urgently need on the ground. This will speed the delivery time of critical data from days to minutes.

“IPEX will demonstrate software that will enable future NASA missions to recognize science events such as flooding, volcanism and wildfires, and respond by sending alerts and autonomously acquiring follow-up imagery,” said Steve Chien of JPL, principal investigator for the IPEX mission.

The second of these satellites is the Michigan Multipurpose Mini-satellite/CubeSat On-board processing Validation Experiment (M-Cubed/COVE). This mini-craft was developed in partnership with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and will be used to image Earth. The COVE payload will use data to validate an instrument image data processing algorithm that will greatly reduce the science data transmission rate required for on-orbit operations.

“The COVE payload will advance processor and algorithm technology designed for use in a future science instrument to characterize properties of aerosols and clouds, which will help our understanding of global climate change,” said Paula Pingree of JPL, principal investigator of the MCubed/COVE-2 mission.

NASA also sponsored three more CubeSats, developed by Montana State University and Medgar Evers College. Seven other CubeSats made their way to orbit, after having been developed under sponsorship of the NRO. These were developed by the Aerospace Corporation, the Air Force Institute of Technology and the Army.

“We are pleased we could support the NRO, NASA, and all of the associated institutions by successfully delivering these important auxiliary payloads which will test and validate new technologies for debris mitigation, propulsion, space weather, communications, on-orbit data processing and the use of commercially available components,” said Sponnick in a statement.

Source: Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online