CubeSat released from ISS will test new technologies

Demonstration project will focus on measuring variations in light emitted by stars.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Dec 08, 2017
A CubeSat or tiny satellite released from the International Space Station (ISS) will test a new technology designed to conduct precise measurements of changes in the light emitted by stars.

Known as the Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics (ASTERIA), the technology was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Phaeton Program, a project designed to bring together early career scientists and more experienced mentors to collaborate on a flight project.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, led by Sara Seager, took part in creating ASTERIA.

The new technology uses precision photometry, a technique that measures the intensity, also known as flux, of light emitted by objects such as stars.

In order to make accurate measurements, space telescopes have to recognize and correct internal errors that could interfere with their measurements.

While engineers have successfully accomplished this with large space telescopes, the ability to do so with CubeSats opens new, unprecedented opportunities in astronomy.

Scientists envision groups of CubeSats working together, enabling simultaneous measurements of different parts of the sky.

"CubeSats offer a relatively inexpensive means to test new technologies," explained JPL's Amanda Donner, who serves as ASTERIA's mission assurance manager.

"The modular design of CubeSats also makes them customizable, giving even a small group of researchers and students access to space."

To accomplish its objectives, ASTERIA needs to have an astronomy camera capable of keeping its tiny telescope focused on an individual star for 20 consecutive minutes while the CubeSat orbits the Earth.

It also requires a system of thermal control that maintains stable temperatures on the CubeSat, especially for the times it passes through Earth's shadow.

Miniaturizing the components needed to point the telescope at an object and those required to maintain thermal control has been a major challenge for the ASTERIA team, noted JPL's ASTERIA lead systems engineer and mission manager Matthew Smith.

"Typically, those components alone are larger than our entire spacecraft. Now that we've miniaturized the components for ASTERIA, it can be applied to other CubeSats or small instruments," Smith emphasized.

Although this project is solely for demonstration purposes, CubeSats could one day carry out numerous astronomical functions.



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