Smallsat mission integrator NanoAvionics US has received a mission contract by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world. The 12U (1U equals 10 × 10 × 10 cm3) spacecraft, about the size of a microwave oven, will host the Mini Astrophysical MeV Background Observatory (MAMBO) mission. 

The goal of MAMBO is to make the best-ever measurement of the cosmic diffuse gamma-ray (CDG) background using its on-board, innovative gamma-ray detector. This will be the first satellite mission hosting a high-energy astrophysics payload developed by LANL in 20 years. The MAMBO detector utilizes Bismuth Germanate (BGO) scintillator detectors and silicon photo-multiplier (SiPM) light sensors arranged in a unique shielding configuration to achieve highly sensitive gamma-ray sensing from low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Peter Bloser, MAMBO Project Leader at LANL said: “By flying in LEO on a low-mass nanosatellite and using our innovative shielding configuration for the gamma-ray detector, MAMBO will achieve an order-of-magnitude lower background noise than previous instruments. This will allow us to improve previous measurements by COMPTEL and SMM, which suffered from large systematic errors due to immense instrumental background.”

To fit the MAMBO payload into the host spacecraft, NanoAvionics will customize one of its 12U modular buses by making some mechanical and components arrangements before assembling the nanosatellite. To operate the satellite while in orbit, Los Alamos has purchased NanoAvionics’ mission control software, capable of handling multiple satellite missions and compatible with all major commercial ground station providers with antennas in over 200 locations around the globe. For all other mission-related aspects, NanoAvionics will take an advisory role supporting the team at Los Alamos with integration, launch, and operations.

Markus Hehlen, Senior Project Leader for Agile Space at LANL said: “NanoAvionics allows LANL to leverage recent commercial options for nanosatellites and global ground station networks. Standardizing delivery and operational platforms across multiple missions will enable LANL to bring cutting-edge solutions from the drawing board to on-orbit operations faster, cheaper, and more reliably for a range of government customers.”

F. Brent Abbott, CEO NanoAvionics US, said: “Being selected for this historic science mission by Los Alamos shows the quality of our satellites, sub-systems and mission services. It also demonstrates the enormous potential that nanosatellites have for the research and science community. This latest science mission follows our previous fundamental research mission contracts with NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).”

The measurement of the CDG background in the difficult “mega electron-volt” (MeV) energy band by the MAMBO mission will help differentiate and clarify the evolution of nuclear (e.g., supernovae) versus accretion (e.g., active galactic nuclei) processes over the history of the Universe. Los Alamos was already part of NASA’s successful Swift and Fermi missions which detected record-setting gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) from distant galactic explosions.


Note to editors
Scintillators are transparent materials (e.g., BGO crystals) that allow scientists to detect particles and other forms of radiation. When radiation hits a scintillator, the material absorbs some of its energy and makes it visible by emitting a flash of light (photons).

About NanoAvionics
NanoAvionics is a smallsat bus manufacturer and mission integrator currently based in four locations across the USA, UK and Lithuania. The company’s efforts are focused on enabling critical satellite functions and optimizing their hardware, launch and satellite operation costs by providing end-to-end small satellite solutions – ranging from single missions to constellations. Its core engineering team has implemented over 90 successful satellite missions and commercial projects during the past several years. With a modularity such as the fundamental principle of NanoAvionics systems’ architecture, NanoAvionics provides economic viability to a wide range of small satellite constellation-based missions, businesses and organizations worldwide. | Twitter:

About Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is managed by Triad, a public service oriented, national security science organization equally owned by its three founding members: Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), and the Regents of the University of California (UC) for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.