BCT Opening New Small Satellite Manufacturing Center, Will Build CubeSat Constellation For NASA Hurricane Observation

Image Credit: Blue Canyon Technologies

November 1, 2017 – It’s no secret that hurricanes are affecting the United States in a dramatic way this year. In the past few months alone, the US and Caribbean regions have been impacted by multiple catastrophic storms. To help understand why we are seeing such drastic changes in tropical storm patterns, Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) will build a constellation of CubeSats for an observing system for NASA to measure environmental inner-core conditions for tropical cyclones.

The 3U spacecraft will be built at BCT’s new Spacecraft Manufacturing Center (with over 45,000 sq. ft. of laboratory and office space) located in Boulder, Colorado. Opening in early 2018, the office and laboratories will be designed specifically for high-volume production of small spacecraft systems and components, with the manufacturing capability to handle large constellations of small spacecraft.

BCT will build seven identical XACT-based 3U-class CubeSats for the Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission. The satellites will be divided into three low-Earth orbital planes and will consist of a single high-performance radiometer payload hosted on each spacecraft bus. Each payload includes a BCT-designed motor as well as electronics to control the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory (LL) payload spin mechanism.

Under the terms of a contract, BCT will manufacture each 3U spacecraft bus, integrate the radiometer payloads from MIT LL and test each complete spacecraft. One qualification unit and six flight units will be delivered over the course of the contract.

The objective of the TROPICS mission is to provide the first high-revisit microwave observations of precipitation, temperature and humidity over tropical regions. These successive measurements will be used to observe the thermodynamics of the troposphere and precipitation structure for storm systems at the intermediate or large scale over the entire storm lifecycle. The measurements will also help assess impacts on a storm’s track and intensity.

“The TROPICS mission is the first to use a constellation of CubeSats for high-revisit microwave observations of weather. BCT is excited to see our high-performance CubeSat bus being used in such an important scientific mission. We’re taking advantage of the opportunities that constellations can realize.,” said George Stafford, BCT president. “This constellation will also be the first to use our much larger and more capable small satellite manufacturing facility currently being built near our existing offices. This new capability will allow us to build, test, and integrate small satellites from CubeSats up to 200 kg ESPA class.”

BCT’s highly integrated 3U CubeSat includes an ultra-precise attitude control system that allows for accurate knowledge and fine-pointing of the satellite payload. The BCT bus avionics also includes electrical power and command and data handling systems designed for long life and reliability over the course of the mission lifetime.

Completion and delivery of the qualification unit is currently scheduled for the 4th Quarter of 2018, while the six flight units are scheduled for delivery in the 1st quarter of 2019.