UVA Today

Nano Mission

Page Down

A University of Virginia student-built spacecraft,
a cube the size of a softball,
will be launched into orbit next year as part of a joint NASA mission.

UVA’s craft will conduct atmospheric density studies. The objective is to better understand the rates at which low-orbiting spacecraft decelerate and ultimately descend to Earth when encountering “drag” of the outer edges of our atmosphere.

The miniature spacecraft, called a CubeSat (for cube-sized satellite), will be the first developed and flown by UVA. Students will track the craft and collect data from it using a ground station they designed and built. The station will include a steerable, roof-mounted antenna linked with radios and computers in a room dedicated to mission control.

Extraordinary Experience

“Our students will have direct control of our spacecraft, gaining valuable firsthand experience in spacecraft operations,” said Christopher Goyne, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who serves as faculty adviser for the project. “They also will have control over the data received from the spacecraft and will handle its distribution and dissemination. It’s a great learning experience that will prepare them for careers in the aerospace industry and with government.”

2016

Spring 2016
Awarding of NASA Contract
Fall 2016 - Spring 2017
Design of Spacecraft

2017

Spring - Summer 2017
Ground Station Design
Spring - Summer 2017
Testing Components

Two more satellites are being designed and built by students at Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University through the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. Hampton University also is collaborating. Students at each institution will communicate with their craft and each other throughout the mission, and have worked jointly on the project during its design phase.

Summer 2017 - Spring 2018
Assembly, Testing and Delivery

Two more satellites are being designed and built by students at Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University through the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. Hampton University also is collaborating. Students at each institution will communicate with their craft and each other throughout the mission, and have worked jointly on the project during its design phase.

The satellite will be launched with the two others aboard a NASA-sponsored rocket as part of an International Space Station resupply mission. It will be deployed into orbit as a “constellation,” either directly from the rocket or later by astronauts aboard the space station. The satellites will circle the Earth at different altitudes, gathering atmospheric drag information from specific orbits.

Aerospace engineering professor Chris Goyne, center, and students Chandrakanth “C.K.” Venigalla, left, and Robin Leiter show their 3-D printed model of the CubeSat they helped design.

Inside the Box

CubeSats weigh about 3 pounds and measure 3.9 inches by 3.9 inches by 4.1 inches. CubeSats contain radios, solar panels, batteries, battery heaters and inertial measurement units. They also include electronics, including GPS, for altitude and flight control and data storage. Ground station commands are sent via amateur radio signal, and data is streamed to ground stations from the onboard radio.

Solar Panel / Aluminum Frame / Computer / Ports / Batteries / Feet

Famous Footsteps

The CubeSat mission is a multi-year project, begun at UVA in 2013 when students launched a test craft via high-altitude weather balloon. The project is passed down to each succeeding group of fourth-year engineering students as part of their final projects. Everything learned since the project’s inception contributes to the overall growth and development of the CubeSat mission.

2018

Late 2018
Launch of Spacecraft
Late 2018 - Early 2019
Orbiting Earth

“Our students are walking in the footsteps, in essence, of famous NASA programs like the Apollo missions,” Goyne said. “It’s a special experience for them to design, build, test and ultimately fly a craft that goes into space.”

The space-phase of the mission will end when each CubeSat re-enters Earth’s dense atmosphere and burns up like a meteor. Then the data analysis begins.

2019

After Orbiting Ends
Data Analysis Begins

On November 19, 2013, three Cubesats were photographed by the International Space Station. The satellites were released outside the Kibo laboratory using a deployer attached to the Japanese module’s robotic arm. The Cubesats were delivered to ISS on August 9.

Prev Next