May 9, 2017 – The University of Colorado Boulder’s LASP-built Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS) CubeSat completed its mission on Saturday, May 6. After a week of rapid altitude decay, MinXSS deorbited and burned up in Earth’s atmosphere, as expected. The last contact from the spacecraft came from an Australian HAM operator, VK2FAK, at 2017-05-06 02:37:26 UTC.
MinXSS was the first NASA-funded science CubeSat to be launched. It was launched on ULA/Orbital-ATK OA-4 from Cape Canaveral on December 6, 2015, and was deployed from the International Space Station airlock on May 16, 2016. The mission was originally proposed to record 3 months of science observations on orbit. The final run time in space was 11 months, 19 days, 16 hours, 32 minutes, most of which was in science mode.
The MinXSS CubeSat project, led by LASP Associate Director Tom Woods and postdoc James Mason, was designed to collect data on soft X-rays (SXR) emitted by the sun, a class of X-ray light that has rarely been studied. Each type of solar radiation conveys unique information about the physics underlying solar flares. Understanding SXR is particularly important for their influence in the level of the upper atmosphere called the ionosphere.
MinXSS-1 began science operations on June 9, 2016, and collected more than 49,000 spectra. MinXSS data are available online. Science data was collected until 2 days prior to deorbit.
A second, longer-duration mission built by LASP is ready for delivery for launch in October 2017. The MinXSS-2 CubeSat has a planned 5-year mission.
The MinXSS project heavily involves its graduate student team members with scientists and engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Over 40 graduate students, 3 undergraduate students, and one high school student have worked on MinXSS.
CubeSats are fully functional miniaturized satellites that are about the size of a loaf of bread. They generally weigh less than three pounds and use off-the-shelf electronic components. CubeSats are designed to facilitate access to space research at lower cost, making them an ideal project for University students.
CubeSats can orbit the Earth several times a day, taking measurements in the thermosphere. Due to atmospheric drag, the CubeSat orbits decay and progressively lower, making it possible to explore lower layers of the thermosphere/ionosphere without the need for on-board propulsion. The mission lifetime of individual CubeSats is estimated to be about three months, but can be longer.