NASA Satellites Launch Aboard Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne

Cornell University students work with the Pathfinder for Autonomous Navigation (PAN), a CubeSat that is part of NASA's 29th ELaNa mission.
Cornell University students work with the Pathfinder for Autonomous Navigation (PAN), a CubeSat that is part of NASA’s 29th ELaNa mission. Photo credit: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket detached from the company’s CosmicGirl aircraft at approximately 5:53 p.m. EST (2:53 p.m. PST) on Jan. 13, 2022,  launching NASA’s 29th Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission and the 13th CubeSat in the TechEdSat series. This launch, also known as STP-27VPB, lifted off at approximately 4:39 p.m. EST (1:39 p.m. PST) from Mojave Air and Space Port, California.

Cornell’s Pathfinder for Autonomous Navigation (PAN), the 29th ELaNa mission, will launch two small research satellites known as CubeSats to low-Earth orbit to demonstrate autonomous rendezvous at a low cost. PAN is the first CubeSat mission to attempt docking between two CubeSats and will represent one of the most advanced autonomous CubeSat systems that has flown to date.

CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites, built to standard units, or “U,”  of 4 inches cubed. Often included as secondary payloads, CubeSats can be 1U, 2U, 3U, or 6U in size, typically weighing less than 3 pounds per unit and designed to carry out unique tasks once deployed into low-Earth orbit.

The PAN CubeSats, each measuring approximately 8 inches x 12 inches, feature a cold gas propulsion system, reaction wheel-based attitude control, and GPS navigation. A few months after launch, the satellites will match each other’s orbits and rendezvous to demonstrate future capabilities for on-orbit assembly.

The nanosatellites will use carrier-differential GPS to autonomously conduct rendezvous and docking operations. This method allows position measurement accurate to within several centimeters. If successful, the technology demonstrated by PAN will reduce the mass and complexity associated with traditional rendezvous and docking systems.

PAN was selected through NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) and assigned to this mission by the agency’s Launch Services Program (LSP) based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. CSLI enables the launch of CubeSat projects designed, built, and operated by students, teachers, faculty, NASA centers, and nonprofit organizations. Managed by LSP, ELaNa missions provide a deployment opportunity or ride-share launches to space for the selected CubeSats.

The TechEdSat-13 team prepares the spacecraft for flight at Virgin Orbit’s payload processing facility in Long Beach, California. Photo credit: Virgin Orbit

TechEdSat-13, from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, is a 3U nanosatellite that carries a unique artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) module featuring the first orbital flight of a neuromorphic processor. This processor, the Intel Loihi, permits fast and efficient execution of AI/ML algorithms through a unique architecture that, in some ways, mimics the human brain.

In addition, there is a unique exo-atmospheric brake that will help rapidly de-orbit this and future nanosatellites. With this exo-brake technology, TechEdSat-13 will help address the accumulation and efficient disposal of orbital debris. This effort also helps to set the stage for autonomous navigation for nanosatellites to drop from orbit and reach their planned destination on Earth.

The TechEdSat flight series involves university interns and early career aerospace professionals. TechEdSat-13 was funded by various research groups within NASA, and the neuromorphic processor was provided by the Air Force Research Laboratory  Information Directorate.

Kennedy Pushes the Boundaries of Innovation During Employee Event

Kennedy Space Center innovator Sherry O'Brien
Sherry O’Brien proudly displays her first-place check in the No Cost Proposal Awards category from Kennedy Space Center’s Innovation Without Boundaries competition. Photo credit: NASA

Eleven Kennedy Space Center employees in two different categories were selected as winners in the 2021 KSC Innovation Without Boundaries competition. Winning proposals spanned a wide range of topics, including cryogenic fixtures, multi-chargers for emergency communications, and a space chili challenge.

“It was amazing to see the passion the employees have,” said Innovation Lead Hetal Miranda. “Their creative ideas are inspiring innovation at KSC.”

Kennedy Space center innovator Jaime Toro Medina
Kennedy Space Center engineer Jaime Toro Medina poses with his first-place check from the Innovation Without Boundaries Award event. Photo credit: NASA

Sponsored by Kennedy chief technologist Kathy Loftin, the Innovation Without Boundaries campaign is in its third year. The competition took place in person at Kennedy in 2018 and 2019 and was held virtually in 2021 due to concerns with COVID-19. Presentations were made in November and winners were announced in December.

Kennedy Space Center innovator Nicolas Donahue
Nicolas Donahue stands in front of Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building with his second-place award. Photo credit: NASA

The event featured six winners in the “No Cost Proposal Awards” category (ideas that could make a significant impact with little-to-no associated cost needed to implement) and five winners in the “Small Project Award” category (ideas that would require funding up to $20,000). Contestants made presentations before a panel of judges, who were permitted time to ask questions about the proposals. Judges made recommendations to the chief technologist, who made the final determinations.

 

Here are the winners in the No Cost Proposal Awards category:

  • First place, tie: Jaime Toro Medina (NASA Engineering) – KSC National Instrument Center of Excellence
  • First place, tie: Sherry O’Brien (TOSC contract) – Scanning part tags used for flight processing into Solumina
  • Second place, tie: Ian Rook (NASA Engineering) – Adjustable window frame prototype for optical testing
  • Second place, tie: Nicolas Donahue (TOSC contract) – Cryogenic valve tuning fixtures
  • Third place, tie: Athela Frandsen (NASA Engineering) – Multi-chargers for sustained communications during emergency lockdowns
  • Third place, tie: Kimberly Phillips (KLXS III contract) – Program model number tool upgrade

Here are the winners in the Small Project Awards category:

  • Jacob Torres (LASSO contract) – Space chili grow a pepper plant challenge
  • David Miranda (NASA Exploration Research and Technology) – Remote collaboration tool
  • James Mantovani (NASA Exploration Research and Technology) – Advanced lunar array for regolith monitoring validation in the SwampWorks GMRO Lab BP-1 Test Facility
  • Thomas “Trey” Barnes (NASA Engineering) – Increasing capability of chemical analysis via sorbent pen technology
  • Misle Tessema (NASA Engineering) – Method development for determining wide range of low allow steel chemistry

“We want to encourage our KSC workforce – both civil servants and contractors – to be innovative with ideas that could not only impact their organizations, but KSC and NASA,” Hetal Miranda said. “Our goal is to continue to provide opportunities to bring these ideas forward through future Innovation Without Boundaries calls.”

Weather Holds at 30% Favorable, Prelaunch News Conference Set for Noon Today

Falcon 9 roll out for CRS-24
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon spacecraft rolls out to Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2021, in preparation for launch. The agency’s 24th commercial resupply services mission, targeted for liftoff on Dec. 21, 2021 at 5:06 a.m. EST, will deliver new science investigations, supplies, and equipment to the crew on board the International Space Station. Photo credit: SpaceX

The weather forecast remains unchanged for the planned Tuesday, Dec. 21, launch of SpaceX’s 24th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for NASA.

Weather officials with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a 30% chance of favorable weather conditions for Tuesday’s targeted liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the company’s Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Less than favorable conditions are expected for the primary launch window early Tuesday morning, with the main concerns associated with this weather being the cumulus cloud rule, thick cloud layer rule, and surface electric field rule.

NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting tomorrow at 5:06 a.m. EST, to launch its resupply services mission to the space station. The backup date for launch is Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 4:43 a.m. EST.

At noon today, NASA TV will broadcast a prelaunch news conference from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for SpaceX’s 24th commercial resupply services mission. The event will feature representatives from NASA’s International Space Station Program, SpaceX, and the U.S. Space Force Space Launch Delta 45.

Participants include:

  • Joel Montalbano, manager for the International Space Station Program
  • Bob Dempsey, Acting Deputy Chief Scientist, International Space Station Program
  • Sarah Walker, director, Dragon mission management at SpaceX
  • Arlena Moses, launch weather officer, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron

Live launch coverage will air on NASA Television, the NASA app and the agency’s website, with prelaunch events starting Tuesday at 4:45 a.m. EST. Join us on the blog for live updates, or follow along on NASA TV or the agency’s website for the live launch broadcast.

Stay connected with the mission on social media and let people know you’re following the mission on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by using the hashtags #Dragon and #NASASocial. Follow and tag these accounts:

Twitter: @NASA, @NASAKennedy, @NASASocial, @Space_Station, @ISS_Research, @ISS National Lab, @SpaceX
Facebook: NASA, NASAKennedy, ISS, ISS National Lab
Instagram: @NASA, @NASAKennedy, @ISS@ISSNationalLab, @SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rolled to Launch Pad, Weather 30% Favorable for CRS-24 Launch

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon spacecraft rolls out to Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2021, in preparation for launch. The agency’s 24th commercial resupply services mission, targeted for liftoff on Dec. 21, 2021 at 5:06 a.m. EST, will deliver new science investigations, supplies, and equipment to the crew on board the International Space Station.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon spacecraft rolls out to Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2021, in preparation for launch. The company’s 24th commercial resupply services mission for NASA, targeted for liftoff on Dec. 21, 2021 at 5:06 a.m. EST, will deliver new science investigations, supplies, and equipment to the crew on board the International Space Station. Photo credit: SpaceX

NASA commercial cargo launch provider SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket – with the Dragon atop – was rolled out to the launch pad Sunday morning, Dec. 19, before being raised to a vertical position in preparation for Tuesday’s launch of SpaceX’s 24th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff of the Falcon 9 is scheduled for 5:06 a.m. EST.

Weather officials with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron now predict a 30% chance of favorable weather conditions for Tuesday’s launch, with the cumulous cloud, thick cloud layer, and surface electric field rules remaining the primary weather concerns.

Dragon will deliver a variety of NASA science investigations, including a protein crystal growth study that could improve how cancer treatment drugs are delivered to patients, a handheld bioprinter that could one day be used to print tissue directly onto wounds for faster healing, an investigation from the makers of Tide that examines detergent efficacy in microgravity, and investigations from the Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS) program.

About 12 minutes after launch, Dragon will separate from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage and begin a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station. Arrival to the station is planned for Wednesday, Dec. 22. Dragon will dock autonomously to the forward-facing port of the station’s Harmony module, with NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn monitoring operations from the station.

The spacecraft is expected to spend about a month attached to the orbiting outpost before it returns to Earth with research and return cargo, splashing down off the coast of Florida.

Tune in to NASA TV or the agency’s website for live coverage of mission activities, beginning Monday, Dec. 20, at noon with the prelaunch news conference. Live launch day coverage starts Tuesday at 4:45 a.m. EST.

Weather 40% Favorable for Tuesday’s SpaceX Cargo Resupply Launch

Weather officials with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions for Tuesday’s launch, with the cumulous cloud, thick cloud layer, and surface electric field rules being the primary weather concerns.

SpaceX is targeting Dec. 21, at 5:06 a.m. EST, to launch its 24th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for NASA. Liftoff will be from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will deliver new science investigations, supplies, and equipment for the international crew.

Some of the NASA science investigations launching as part of Dragon’s 6,500 pounds of cargo include a protein crystal growth study that could improve how cancer treatment drugs are delivered to patients and a handheld bioprinter that could one day be used to print tissue directly onto wounds for faster healing. There are also experiments from students at several universities as part of the Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS) program and an investigation from the makers of Tide that examines detergent efficacy in microgravity.

Live coverage will air on NASA Television, the NASA app and the agency’s website, with prelaunch events starting Tuesday at 4:45 a.m. You can also join us here on the blog for live updates.

Stay connected with the mission on social media and let people know you’re following the mission on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by using the hashtags #Dragon and #NASASocial. Follow and tag these accounts:

Twitter: @NASA, @NASAKennedy, @NASASocial, @Space_Station, @ISS_Research, @ISS National Lab, @SpaceX
Facebook: NASA, NASAKennedy, ISS, ISS National Lab
Instagram: @NASA, @NASAKennedy, @ISS@ISSNationalLab, @SpaceX

Launch Readiness Review Complete Ahead of 24th SpaceX Resupply Mission

CRS-23 Cargo Dragon
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, topped with the Dragon spacecraft, is seen inside the company’s hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 24, 2021, prior to being rolled out to the launch pad in preparation for the 23rd commercial resupply services launch. The mission delivered science investigations, supplies, and equipment to the crew aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: SpaceX

Joint teams from NASA and SpaceX have completed a launch readiness review ahead of the company’s 24th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for the agency. Liftoff is targeted for Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 5:06 a.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the live launch broadcast will begin at 4:45 a.m.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft have been mated inside the company’s hangar at Launch Complex 39A. Rollout to the launch pad is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 19, when teams from SpaceX will then raise the Falcon 9 – with Dragon atop – into vertical position in preparation for launch.

Tune in on NASA Television, the NASA app, or the agency’s website at noon Monday, Dec. 20, for the prelaunch news conference from Kennedy’s Press Site with the following participants:

  • Joel Montalbano, manager, NASA’s International Space Station Program
  • Bob Dempsey, acting deputy chief scientist, NASA’s International Space Station Program
  • Sarah Walker, director, Dragon Mission Management, SpaceX
  • Arlena Moses, launch weather officer, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will deliver 6,500 pounds of new science investigations, supplies, and equipment for the international crew. Research includes a protein crystal growth study that could improve how cancer treatment drugs are delivered to patients and a handheld bioprinter that could one day be used to print tissue directly onto wounds for faster healing. Also aboard are experiments from students at several universities as part of the Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS) program as well as an investigation from the makers of Tide that examines detergent efficacy in microgravity.

ELaNa 38 CubeSats: Small Satellites Making a Big Impact

One of the solar panels being installed onto the GASPACS CubeSat during final assembly.
A student from Utah State University installs one of the solar panels onto the GASPACS CubeSat during final assembly. Photo credit: Jack Danos, Team Coordinator, Get Away Special Team, Utah State University

Launching aboard SpaceX’s 24th Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station, NASA’s 38th Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission strengthens the initiative’s aim of providing opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools, NASA Centers, and non-profit organizations. Liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 5:06 a.m. EST.

The DAILI spacecraft in its stowed configuration and ready for installation into the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer.
The 6U DAILI spacecraft is shown in its stowed configuration before installation into the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer. Photo credit: Nancy Pastor, The Aerospace Corporation

The four small satellites, or CubeSats, that comprise the 38th ELaNa mission include designs from Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California; Utah State University in Logan, Utah; Georgia Tech Research Corporation in Atlanta, Georgia; and NASA’s Kennedy.

CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites, built to standard dimensions – Units or “U” – of 4 inches cubed. Often included as secondary payloads, CubeSats can be 1U, 2U, 3U, or 6U in size, typically weighing less than 3 pounds per U and designed to carry out unique tasks once deployed into low-Earth orbit.

The DAILI spacecraft is shown in its mission configuration with the solar arrays deployed and the Sunshade open. Photo credit: Nancy Pastor, The Aerospace Corporation

The Daily Atmospheric and Ionospheric Limb Imager (DAILI), built by Aerospace Corporation, is a linear 6U CubeSat that images the edge of Earth’s atmosphere to determine daytime density of atmospheric oxygen. The region of atmosphere it will study – roughly an altitude of 87 to 180 miles – is difficult to measure and produces uncertain atmospheric models. This investigation could help improve models informing our understanding of dynamics in the upper atmosphere, which can affect satellites and space debris in low-Earth orbit, while improved understanding of how Earth’s atmosphere works could contribute to better forecasting of weather and other atmospheric events.

The Aerospace Corporation – a national nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center – designed and developed DAILI based on the company’s Remote Atmospheric and Ionospheric Detection System experiment, which was operational on the space station from 2009 to 2010, enabled DAILI to be designed. The DAILI CubeSat project is led by principal investigator Dr. James Hecht.

The completed GASPACS CubeSat.
The GASPACS CubeSat was built by students from Utah State. Photo credit: Jack Danos, Team Coordinator, Get Away Special Team, Utah State University

An undergraduate team at Utah State University developed the Get Away Special Passive Attitude Control Satellite (GASPACS), a 1U CubeSat with a primary mission to deploy a meter-long inflatable boom in low-Earth orbit and transmit a clear photograph of the deployed boom to Earth. Inflatable structures are compact and lightweight and therefore could serve many useful purposes in space. On this mission, the inflatable boom also will passively stabilize the rotation of the satellite due to aerodynamic drag in orbit.

The GASPACS CubeSat was developed by the university’s Get Away Special Team – an undergraduate, extracurricular research team within the physics department that gives students the opportunity to learn real-world engineering skills by effectively contributing to aerospace research. The team’s principal investigator is Dr. Jan Sojka, head of the university’s physics department.

Vibration Testing of the PATCOOL CubeSat Prototype.
The PATCOOL CubeSat Prototype undergoes vibration testing. Photo credit: NASA

The Passive Thermal Coating Observatory Operating in Low-Earth Orbit (PATCOOL) satellite is a 3U CubeSat sponsored by NASA and developed by students at the University of Florida to investigate the feasibility of using a cryogenic selective surface coating as a more efficient way to passively cool components in space. The team hopes in-orbit testing will validate what ground tests have demonstrated – that this coating should provide a much higher reflectance of the Sun’s irradiant power than any existing coating while still providing far-infrared power emission.

The ADvanced Autonomous MUltiple Spacecraft (ADAMUS) Laboratory at the University of Florida (UF), with funding from NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), developed the PATCOOL CubeSat, along with principal investigator, Brandon Marsell, branch chief for LSP’s Environments and Launch Approval, based at Kennedy.

The TARGIT satellite in its deployed state.
The TARGIT satellite is shown in its deployed state. Photo credit: W.C. Hobbs

The Tethering and Ranging mission of the Georgia Institute of Technology (TARGIT) is a 3U CubeSat that seeks to develop and test in orbit an imaging LiDAR system capable of fine detailed topographic mapping while also providing university students with hands-on education in space systems and applications. Additionally, the mission will demonstrate a series of experimental spacecraft technologies, including active tether and inflation systems, 3D-printed components, horizon sensors using low-resolution thermal imagers, and nanocarbon-based solar cells.

GAS team members Cooper Gowan, Andrew Nelson, and Carter Page showing the finished inflatable boom payload.
Utah State University’s GAS team members show the finished inflatable boom payload. Photo credit: Jack Danos, Team Coordinator, Get Away Special Team, Utah State University

Students from Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering designed and developed the TARGIT CubeSat, under the tutelage of their professor and principal investigator, Dr. Brian C. Gunter.

The ELaNa 38 mission CubeSats were selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) and assigned to the mission by LSP, based at Kennedy. CSLI provides launch opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools, NASA Centers, and non-profit organizations.

To date, NASA has selected 220 CubeSat missions, 124 of which have been launched into space, with 37 more missions scheduled for launch within the next 12 months. The selected CubeSats represent participants from 42 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 102 unique organizations.

Stay connected with these CubeSat missions on social media by following NASA’s Launch Services Program on Facebook and Twitter.

NASA’s IXPE Journeys to Explore the Universe

NASA's IXPE launch from Kennedy Space Center
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft onboard from Launch Complex 39A, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at 1 a.m. EST, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission launched at 1 a.m. EST Thursday on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A joint effort with the Italian Space Agency, the IXPE observatory is NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from the most extreme and mysterious objects in the universe – supernova remnants, supermassive black holes, and dozens of other high-energy objects.

Click here to read the full feature.

Weather Outlook Great, IXPE Locked in for 1 a.m. EST Launch

The weather outlook for NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) launch from Kennedy Space Center remains outstanding. Weather officials with Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron predict a greater than 90% chance of favorable conditions for liftoff of NASA’s first dedicated mission to measuring X-ray polarization.

Propellant load is underway, which eliminates IXPE’s 90-minute launch window.

“We have committed to this and we are committed to a T-zero at 1 a.m.,” said Mic Woltman of NASA Communications.