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STF-1 Update 2

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The Simulation-to-Flight 1 (STF-1) team has been making significant progress since the last blog post. As per the primary mission objective, some software-only simulators have been developed and are currently released as version 1 NOS3 or the NASA Operational Simulator for Small Satellites. These simulators will aid in flight software development that is currently underway.  The current focus is on developing the core applications that will drive the mission. This development phase will last for approximately three months before integration and testing begins. The clean room that will be used by STF-1 has been completed and is ready to accept components that have already started arriving. Below is a picture of the cleanroom ready for the ribbon cutting ceremony here in the coming weeks.

Clean Room

The components have already been arriving and are nearly ready to begin testing. The science teams have already begun designing systems and PCBs that will perform the experiments. The current component status can be seen in the table below. Each science team at West Virginia University (WVU) has been working diligently to meet the delivery date at the end of this year so that testing can begin.

Hardware Status
Onboard Computer Received
Solar Cells Received
Power System Ordered
Chassis Ordered
ITC Designed Solar Panel PCBs Designed – Out for Quote
Radio Ordered
Clean Room Assembled and Setup for Ribbon Cutting
Deployable Antenna Ordered
Camera Received

The anatomy of the spacecraft is depicted below. The chassis selected is the Innovative Solutions In Space three unit design.  This allows for each unit, or cube, to be assembled independently before full spacecraft integration.  The antenna is also specially designed to fit the chassis, depicted on what is actually the bottom of the spacecraft that is upside down in the picture.  Having the antennas on the underside of the spacecraft allows for use of the extra space, nicknamed the tuna can due to its size, in the launcher to house the GPS antenna.

Anatomy of STF-1

OC-Flight-1’s First Flight

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Just after 6 a.m. on Aug 13, 2013, the OC-Flight-1 picosatellite payload was flown on a sub-orbital testing experiment as part of the “RockSat-X 2013” competition at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The payload was launched from a Terrier-Malemute sounding rocket to an altitude of ~170km, roughly half the altitude at which the picosatellite will orbit the earth and 70km above the Karman line (conventionally used as the start of outer space).  At this altitude, the shell of the RockSat-X payload canister was ejected and the experiments were exposed to elements of the ionosphere.

The intent of testing this science payload in the upper atmosphere was to increase the level of confidence that each subsystem component will behave as intended during on-orbit operation. Since the team is planning on using low cost components-off-the-shelf (which haven’t been manufactured specifically for space applications), there will be a slight risk of adverse performance. By testing normal operation in space conditions, weak points in the design can be identified and adjustments can be made before a large amount of money is spent launching the satellite into low-Earth orbit.

OC-Flight-1 Picosat

OC-Flight-1’s picosat after suborbital flight.

Although the communication systems test was unsuccessful due to a failure in antenna deployment, the payload data was stored on-board and recovered after the RockSat-X payload canister re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and was retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean 90 miles off shore. Using this data, it was determined that the payload subsystems were functioning properly during upper atmosphere operation and the main testing objective was achieved. Additional testing is in the works to prove the long range capability and reliability of the communications system.

NASA’s IV&V Program partnered with students from West Virginia University to integrate the OC-Flight-1 subsystems with other scientific experiments intended to be performed in the upper atmosphere as part of the overall competition. Other participating universities included University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Puerto Rico at San Juan, University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, West Virginia University, University of Minnesota, and Northwest Nazarene University. Even though the team was not alone in encountering mishaps during the integration and operations phase, every team involved with the competition came out a winner. The hand-on practical knowledge gained from participating in RockSat is highly valuable and will be an experience that’s never forgotten.

To see the re-entry of OC-Flight-1’s picosat, watch the video below.

Steven Hard
Project Manager
NASA’s Independent Verification & Validation Program