Zipping through the sky 250 miles up is a shoebox-sized bundle of detectors and electronics named Dellingr.
The namesake of the mythological Norse god of the dawn, Dellingr is among a new breed of spacecraft known as a CubeSat. These small satellites, measured in standardized 10-by-10-by-10 cubic centimeter units, weigh no more than a few pounds — bearing little resemblance to the larger, van-sized spacecraft such as the Hubble Telescope for which NASA is known. But SmallSats — which encompass a wide range of sizes, including CubeSats — are an increasingly valuable tool in the space scientist’s arsenal.

But CubeSats are still in their infancy, with mission success rates hovering near 50 percent. So, a team of scientists and engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, set out on a quest. Their goal? To build a more resilient CubeSat — one that could handle the inevitable on-flight mishaps that bedevil any spacecraft, without going kaput. They wanted a little CubeSat that could.

It was uncharted territory for them — an engineering exercise par excellence. The team was used to building big spacecraft, with the layers of process, analysis and testing that makes them reliable. Switching to CubeSats would require adapting or in some cases creating new processes and approaches, modifying organizational structures, all while working fast and on a limited budget. But it was an experiment worth trying, as the lessons they were sure to learn would benefit the entire CubeSat community. They got to work in 2014 and, after three years of development, Dellingr was ready to take flight.

At the time of this writing Dellingr is flying overhead, transmitting valuable science and engineering data and working out its final kinks. But Dellingr’s journey has been far from smooth: The story of its launch, subsequent complications and successful fixes is a classic NASA tale of persistence and ingenuity.

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