July 13, 2016 – The University of Colorado Boulder’s MinXSS CubeSat has met its minimum mission criteria of collecting one month of science observations. Since its deployment from the International Space Station on May 16, 2016, the bread loaf-sized Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS) has been collecting data about emissions from the sun that can affect communications systems on Earth.
The CubeSat observes soft X-rays from the sun, which can disrupt Earth’s upper atmosphere and hamper radio and GPS signals traveling through the region. The intensity of the soft x-ray emissions emitted from the sun is continuously changing over a large range – with peak emission levels occurring during large eruptions on the sun called solar flares.
MinXSS data will also help scientists understand the physics behind solar flares. The soft X-rays carry information about the temperature, density and chemical composition of material in the sun’s atmosphere, allowing scientists to trace how events like flares and other processes heat the surrounding material in the sun’s atmosphere – which are still being debated among solar scientists.
MinXSS will continue to operate for up to 12 months. Its orbit will naturally degrade over time until it burns up in Earth’s atmosphere.
The mission exemplifies the increasing capability of low-cost CubeSat missions, which have proliferated as the enabling technology has developed. CubeSats have become a low-cost way to take narrowly targeted scientific observations, with only a few instruments, often built from off-the-shelf components.
MinXSS is a 3-Unit (3U) CubeSat built and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students and faculty at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department (AES). More than 40 students have contributed to the project with professional mentorship and technical contributions from professors in the Aerospace Engineering and Sciences Department at CU and from LASP scientists and engineers. CU Professor Tom Woods is the MinXSS principal investigator. Dr. Scott Palo and Dr. Xinlin Li serve as CU AES faculty advisors.
The MinXSS development program was funded by the NASA Science Mission Directorate CubeSat Initiative Program.