U-M team selected for NASA Small Spacecraft collaboration

small spacecraftTwo members of the Climate & Space department faculty are on NASA’s list of university teams collaborating on the development and demonstration of new technologies and capabilities for small spacecraft. Beginning this fall, U-M professors Mark Moldwin andJames Cutler (who also has an appointment in Aerospace Engineering), will work with NASA scientists and engineers as well as the other university teams on the two-year project.

The intent of these collaborations is to enable these small spacecraft, some of which weigh only a few kilograms, to become more powerful and economical tools for science, exploration, and space operations. This is the third round of projects selected under the Smallsat Technology Partnerships initiative.

This year, NASA requested proposals in four specific areas:

  • Enhanced power generation and storage
  • Crosslinking communications systems
  • Relative navigation for multiple small spacecraft
  • Instruments and sensors for small spacecraft science missions

Professors Moldwin and Cutler chose the last option, and submitted a proposal for a new magnetometer. Professor Moldwin says it uses a chip-based commercial system that will reduce the “SWAP+C” (size, weight, power and cost). The new instrument is also designed to be temperature stable, as well as more able to withstand radiation. And most significantly, the device will not require a boom to isolate it from the rest of the satellite. “Our magnetometer CubeSat makes high-quality magnetic measurements,” says Professor Moldwin, “without the need and complexity of deploying a boom to hold the magnetic sensor away from the noisy spacecraft bus, or infrastructure.” As satellite booms can add cost, as well as more risk, eliminating their need is a substantial benefit. 

“There is a vibrant small spacecraft community within America’s universities, and with this initiative NASA seeks to continue and increase our collaboration with that community,” said Andrew Petro, program executive for the Small Spacecraft Technology Program. “The universities will benefit from the deep experience that NASA has in space research and technology, while NASA will benefit from fresh ideas and cost-conscious innovation at the universities.” 

For more information, please visit the NASA website.

This news was reported in Astronomy magazine and Discovery news.