October 2, 2015 – Thirteen NASA and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)-sponsored CubeSats are scheduled to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket Thursday, October 8, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Prelaunch media briefings and launch commentary coverage will be carried live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
Four of the CubeSats are NASA-sponsored and nine are NRO-sponsored, one of which was developed with NASA funding. All will be flown on the NRO’s Government Rideshare Advanced Concepts Experiment (GRACE), which is an auxiliary payload aboard the NROL-55 mission.
The CubeSat developed with NASA funding will evaluate the ability to point a small satellite accurately as it demonstrates data transfer by laser at rates of up to 200 Mb/s — a factor of 100 increase over current high-end CubeSat communications systems. The NASA-sponsored CubeSats will test new small satellite control and communications systems, Earth observations, amateur radio communications and an X-Band radio science transponder.
These CubeSats also include the first to be designed, built and operated by students in Alaska and the first from Native American tribal college students.
Small satellites, including CubeSats, are playing an increasingly larger role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research and educational investigations at NASA. These miniature satellites provide a low-cost platform for NASA missions, including planetary space exploration; Earth observations; fundamental Earth and space science; and developing precursor science instruments like cutting-edge laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications and autonomous movement capabilities. They also allow an inexpensive means to engage students in all phases of satellite development, operation and exploitation through real-world, hands-on research and development experience on NASA-funded rideshare launch opportunities.
NASA will host two prelaunch briefings at Vandenberg on Wednesday, October 7. The first briefing will highlight the growing importance of CubeSats in exploration and technology development and will begin at 11 a.m. MDT. The participants will be:
Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters
Meagan Hubbell, deputy chief, CubeSat Program Office, National Reconnaissance Office
Sherrie Zacharius, vice president, Technology and Laboratory Operations at The Aerospace Corporation
John Serafini, vice president, Allied Minds and CEO, BridgeSat and HawkEye 360
Andrew Petro, Small Spacecraft Technology Program executive at NASA Headquarters
Scott Higginbotham, Launch Services Program ELaNa-12 Mission manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida
The second briefing will discuss the five NASA-sponsored CubeSats. This briefing will begin at 12 p.m. MDT. The participants will be:
Richard Welle, director, Microsatellite Systems department at The Aerospace Corporation
Tim Olson, principal investigator for BisonSat, Salish Kootenai College, Pablo, Montana
Morgan Johnson, team lead for the ARC CubeSat, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Jerry Buxton, vice president, Engineering, for AMSAT Fox-1
Courtney Duncan, principal investigator for LMRST-Sat, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California