When NASA's last Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) takes off on Monday, its general experiments and supplies manifest will include three CubeSats, including the first equipped with radar. With the size of three boxes of cereal and weighing only 26 lb (11.8 kg) each, the miniature satellites will be used to demonstrate the new technologies in orbit.
CubeSats has come a long way since its introduction as a platform for future space engineers training. Nowadays, they are increasingly used to track ships, collect data from low Earth orbit and two are even on their way to the planet Mars. Not bad for spacecraft that consist of cubes of 4 x 4 x 4 inches (10 x 10 x 10 cm) stuck together and executed by computers at the level of a smartphone.
The three CubeSats to be launched from NASA The Wallops flight facility in Virginia on May 21, 2018 will be removed from the unmanned cargo vessel and then deployed in low Earth orbit. These include one called Radar in a Cubesat (RainCube) and it is the first satellite of its size to be equipped with an active radar system. The satellite uses a deployable antenna about 20 inches (50 cm) wide and operates on the high frequency Ka radio band. According to NASA, this allows an exponential increase in the transfer of data over long distances.
NASA's Earth Science Project (ESTO) Validation of Earth Sciences (InVEST) is a demonstration experiment designed to show that CubeSats constellations can monitor Earth's climate as well as satellites conventional much larger, but faster, cheaper and with greater mission flexibility.
"A RainCube radars constellation could observe the internal structure of meteorological systems as they evolve according to the processes that need to be better characterized in weather and climate forecasting models," says Eva RainCube's principal investigator. Pearl of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The second CubeSat is the CubeSat Radiometer Interference Radio Frequency Technology (CubeRRT), which is designed to test new ways to improve data collection in space. NASA says that radio frequency interference (RFI) is becoming a problem for space-based microwave radiometers that are used to study soil moisture, weather, climate and other terrestrial phenomena.
To overcome the interference caused by mobile phones, radios and televisions, CubeRRT will be used to take advantage of current techniques to deal with RFI which involves the use of large data sets to filter data damaged by RFI. The hope is that the new CubeRRT subsystems can detect RFI and filter data damaged by RFI in real time while on board the tiny spacecraft.
The third CubeSat is the temporary experiment for tropical storms and phenomena Mission Demonstration Systems (TEMPEST-D), which will demonstrate a new five-frequency radiometer based on new technologies of low noise amplifier that They can be used to study the processes in the cloud, the development of storms and determine when it will start to rain. By using drag maneuvers to alter its position and altitude, TEMPEST-D can reach a target and begin investigations much faster than conventional satellites that can only revisit a storm system once every three hours.
"With a TEMPEST-like CubeSats train-like constellation, we could take time samples every five to 10 minutes to see how a storm develops," says Steven Reising of Colorado State University.
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