USU students inspect the Dynamic Ionosphere Cubesat Experiment (DICE) satellites. (All photos courtesy Jacob Given, Utah State University Research Foundation graphic designer)

The DICE team meets to review its work at Utah State University Research Foundations’ Space Dynamics Laboratory.

Following final stowing, the DICE satellites will be integrated onto a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., for a launch scheduled for Oct. 27 at 2:47 a.m. (PDT).

Two Utah State University completed Dynamic Ionosphere Cubesat Experiment (DICE) satellites have been delivered to the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, for final launch readiness. Cal Poly will place the two National Science Foundation funded miniature spacecraft in an ejection canister and verify that the assembly is ready for launch.

Following final stowing, the DICE satellites will be integrated onto a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., for a launch scheduled for Oct. 27 at 2:47 a.m. (PDT).

“This collaborative effort has paired industry with academia to build and launch a pair of revolutionary science satellites that will help determine how space weather affects terrestrial communications equipment that people rely on every day and the destiny of the Earth’s atmosphere,” said Charles Swenson, USU engineering professor and director of the USU Center for Space Engineering. “The DICE spacecraft make use of the same technologies that are found in cell phones. We have just engineered it for space to create these innovative spacecraft.”

During a 90-day mission the DICE satellites will map geomagnetic Storm Enhanced Density (SED) plasma bulge and plume formations in Earth’s ionosphere. Two identical spinning spacecraft will measure plasma density and electric fields to determine the how and why of variations in ionospheric plasma density that affects the performance of communications, surveillance and navigation systems on Earth and in space. Data from the DICE satellites will enable scientists to understand the larger question of how the Sun induces magnetic storms which can tear away parts of Earth’s ionosphere to be lost to space.

“Students at USU have played integral parts in the design and manufacturing of the DICE satellites and have received valuable hands-on experience that they can take with them after graduation,” said H. Scott Hinton, dean of the College of Engineering at USU. “Students need to have access to cutting edge projects to prepare them for the global market, and DICE has been a tremendous program to do that.”

Magnetic storms are part of space weather, which refers to conditions in space that can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems. Ionospheric variability has a particularly dramatic effect on radio frequency systems. Some of the largest gradients are found on the edges of SED features, which regularly occur over the United States in the afternoon during magnetic disturbances. These ionospheric features need to be better characterized and understood to determine how they are related to plumes of material that are lost by the Earth to space. Utah State University is working with ASTRA, LLC, which leads the scientific investigation to provide new measurements of SED features and insight into what causes them.

Manufactured at the Utah State University Research Foundations’ Space Dynamics Laboratory, the DICE satellites are known as CubeSats because they both fit into an ejection capsule measuring 10 cm x 10 cm x 30 cm — about the size of a loaf of bread. Each satellite weighs approximately four pounds. The DICE spacecraft are using a new telemetry system developed by L-3 Communications in Salt Lake City that allows the miniature spacecraft to send as much data back to earth as their full size counterparts. Utah State has pioneered the development of miniature space weather science instruments and miniaturized spacecraft technology.

Since its founding in 1888, Utah State University has evolved from a small, agricultural college to one that is nationally and internationally recognized for its intellectual and technological leadership in land, water, space and life enhancement. As Utah’s land grant institution, the university has 850 faculty who provide education for more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students. With seven colleges, more than 200 majors and 130 research-related classes, Utah State counts 17 Goldwater Scholars and a Rhodes Scholar among its graduates in the past ten years.

Contact: Eric Warren, Utah State University Research Foundation, (435) 713-3054,

Contact: Tim Vitale, Utah State University, (435) 797-1356,