Colorado Students Building CubeSat with NSF Funding

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Students at the University of Colorado, Boulder plan to build a tiny satellite to explore the relationships among solar flares, geomagnetic storms and energetic particles as part of an $840,000 program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment is set to begin in January with $287,499 in NSF funding awarded Dec. 7, 2009. That money will allow the students, working under the guidance of professors and engineers, to begin buying parts and building and testing subcomponents for their 2.2-kilogram CubeSat, said XinlinLi, associate professor in the university’s Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences and in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP).

The CubeSatand its cargo, a scaled-down version of an electron and proton telescope being built at LASP for NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probe mission, are scheduled to be completed and delivered to NSF by the end of 2011 for launch in early 2012, Li said. No launch provider has been selected for the space weather experiment. NSF will ask another government agency to carry the CubeSatinto low Earth orbit as secondary cargo on another satellite launch, said Therese MorettoJorgensen, program director for upper atmospheric research in NSF’s Geosciences Directorate.

NSF began soliciting CubeSatproposals to investigate space weather in 2008. The first satellite to be launched under the program, the Radio Aurora Explorer built by SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif., with a principal investigator from the University of Michigan, is scheduled for launch in May on a U.S. Air Force Minotaur rocket from Wallops Island, Va. In May, NSF plans to solicit another round of CubeSatproposals with awards scheduled to be announced next summer, Jorgensen said.