NASA’s first mission under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Demonstration 2 contract is scheduled to launch four CubeSats to space no earlier than Feb. 5, 2022. The CubeSats, which make up the agency’s 41st Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission, will be the first VCLS launch from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Astra Space Inc’s first operational satellite launch aboard its Rocket 3.3.
“As the first VCLS mission to lift off from Florida’s Space Coast, this launch is ushering in new opportunities for CubeSat developers and small class launch vehicle providers,” said Hamilton Fernandez, mission manager supporting the Launch Services Program. “Through our commercial partners, NASA is providing dedicated rides to space for CubeSats, which helps meet the agency’s objectives of transporting smaller payloads and science missions into orbit.”
Three universities and one NASA center developed the CubeSats, which are a type of small satellite. They are:
- BAMA-1– University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
BAMA-1 is a technology demonstration mission that will conduct a flight demonstration of a drag sail module by rapidly deorbiting the satellite. Spacecraft equipped with drag sail technology will be able to deorbit reliably and rapidly, thus reducing space debris and the risk to operational satellites, space stations, and crewed vehicles.
- INCA– New Mexico State University, Las Cruces
INCA (Ionospheric Neutron Content Analyzer) is a scientific investigation mission that will study the latitude and time dependencies of the neutron spectrum in low-Earth orbit for the first time to improve current space weather models and mitigate threats to space and airborne assets. The measurements will come from a new directional neutron spectrometer, which is being developed in conjunction with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of New Hampshire.
- QubeSat– University of California, Berkeley
QubeSat is a technology demonstration mission. It will test and characterize the effects of space conditions on quantum gyroscopes using nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond. Nitrogen-vacancy centers are nitrogen defect points in diamond with quantum properties that allow scientists to form gyroscopes that measure angular velocity. Nitrogen-vacancy center-based technologies are particularly well suited for space because of their high accuracy, small form factor, and radiation tolerance.
- R5-S1 – NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston
R5-S1 is intended to demonstrate a fast and cost-effective way to build successful CubeSats in addition to demonstrating some technologies that are important to in-space inspection, which could help to make crewed space exploration safer and more efficient. R5-S1 could prove a cheaper way to demonstrate crucial technologies like high-performance computers, cameras, algorithms, and a new way for satellites to transmit pictures to the ground.
The ELaNa 41 mission CubeSats were selected through NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) and were assigned to the mission by NASA’s Launch Services Program 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 over 200 CubeSat missions, over 100 of which have been launched into space, with more than 30 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.