The Success And Science Of The Student-Built MinXSS Solar CubeSat

On May 16, 2016, the University of Colorado's MinXSS CubeSat deployed from an airlock of the International Space Station to enter an orbit around Earth. MinXSS observes soft X-rays from the sun -- such X-rays can disturb the ionosphere and thereby hamper radio and GPS signals. Image Credit: ESA/NASA

On May 16, 2016, the University of Colorado’s MinXSS CubeSat deployed from an airlock of the International Space Station to enter an orbit around Earth. MinXSS observes soft X-rays from the sun — such X-rays can disturb the ionosphere and thereby hamper radio and GPS signals. Image Credit: ESA/NASA

October 24, 2016 – The November public lecture at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) in Boulder, Colorado, will feature LASP research scientist James Mason. As a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder, Mason was the lead student for the MinXSS CubeSat. He’ll describe some of the early results from the MinXSS-1 mission, which focus on the energetic processes that occur in the solar corona, and discuss technical aspects of the mission.

MinXSS was the first NASA-funded science CubeSat to be launched. It was sent to the International Space Station with resupply cargo and then deployed from the airlock in May 2016. On June 9, 2016, the bread loaf-sized CubeSat began science operations, collecting data on soft X-rays (SXR) emitted by the sun, a particular class of X-ray light that has rarely been studied. MinXSS is providing up to 100 times more spectral information in the SXR range than data provided by previous NASA missions, and scientists are using MinXSS data to calibrate the wide range of measurements taken over previous decades. In the process, MinXSS is demonstrating that CubeSats can provide a low-cost platform to achieve actual science results.

The University of Colorado, Boulder, manages MinXSS under the direction of principal investigator Tom Woods. CU Boulder and LASP have a long history of involving students in every aspect of spacecraft production. For the MinXSS mission, students were heavily involved in the design, manufacturing, assembly, extensive testing, and delivery of MinXSS to Houston; students continue to be involved in the mission operations, data pipeline production, and science analysis. Students have also been involved in every aspect of MinXSS-2, which is scheduled to launch in 2017.

CubeSats are becoming a key component of our constellation of Earth- and sun-observing satellites. They are not only small, but can be built at a relatively low cost and can take narrowly-focused observations to answer critical science questions. Public and private organizations are providing more opportunities to launch small satellites by offering inexpensive access to launch services and by funding developmental programs.

The LASP public lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. It will be held at the LASP Space Technology Building, Rm. 299, 1234 Innovation Drive, Boulder, Colorado. For more information, contact the LASP Office of Communications and Outreach at: epomail@lasp.colorado.edu.