NASA picks Vanderbilt CubeSat for future launch

NASA has selected a miniature satellite designed by a team led by electrical engineering professor Robert Reed to fly as an auxiliary payload aboard rockets planned to launch in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The Vanderbilt project – RadFxSat (radiation effects satellite project) – is a partnership between the university’s Institute for Space and Defense Electronics and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, Silver Spring, Md.

Read more about Vanderbilt’s CubeSat projects: Space hitchhiker to test radiation effects.

Professor Robert Reed

Reed says the launches provide an unprecedented opportunity to test the billions of calculations Vanderbilt researchers have conducted on the ground using computers. But more than that, these projects expose a new generation to the potentially exciting discoveries where electrical engineering and computer science intersect with space exploration.

NASA selected 24 small satellites, including three from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., as eligible to fly after final negotiations and an opportunity for flight becomes available.

The proposed CubeSats come from universities across the country, a Florida high school, several non-profit organizations and NASA field centers.

CubeSats belong to a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites. The cube-shaped satellites measure about 4 inches on each side, have a volume of about 1 quart, and weigh less than 3 pounds.

The selections are from the fourth round of the CubeSat Launch Initiative. After launch, the satellites will conduct technology demonstrations, educational research or science missions.

Other universities submitting winning satellite proposals are:

  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Ariz.
  • Morehead State University, Morehead, Ky., in partnership with the University of California at Berkeley.
  • Montana State University, Bozeman (two CubeSats) in partnership with The University of New Hampshire, Durham.
  • Pennsylvania State University, in partnership with the Naval Research Laboratory, Monterey, Calif.; and The Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, Calif.
  • Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Mo.
  • Tyvak Nano-Satellites Systems, Irvine, Calif., in partnership with the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
  • University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder.
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, in partnership with Stanford University.
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
  • University of Texas, Austin.

Merritt Island High School, Fla., in partnership with California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and The Discovery Museum and Planetarium in Bridgeport, Conn., also submitted winning proposals.

In the three previous rounds of the CubeSat initiative, NASA selected 63 missions for flight. The agency’s Launch Services Program Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) Program has launched 12 CubeSat missions. This year, 22 CubeSat missions are scheduled for flight.

Read more about security research underway at Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering.