SwRI-designed miniature spacecraft selected to fly on rocket's test flight in 2018

February 2, 2016
Southwest Research Institute is leading the development of the CubeSat to study Solar Particles (CuSP), a microsatellite to study interplanetary magnetic fields and energetic particles in the solar wind. CuSP is one of a dozen shoebox-size payloads, called CubeSats, that will hitchhike into interplanetary space during the first unmanned test flight of NASA’s giant new Space Launch System (SLS). Credit: Southwest Research

NASA announced that a miniature solar particle research spacecraft to be built by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) will launch aboard NASA's Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) rocket in 2018.

The CubeSat to study Solar Particles (CuSP) is one of a dozen shoebox-size payloads, called CubeSats, that will hitchhike into aboard EM-1, the first unmanned test flight of NASA's giant new Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS rocket is designed to eventually carry astronauts to the Moon and Mars aboard the Orion spacecraft.

Equipped with three miniaturized but highly capable scientific instruments, the CuSP microsatellite will observe interplanetary magnetic fields and in the solar wind. Dr. Mihir Desai of SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division is principal investigator of CuSP and leads the development of the Suprathermal Ion Spectrograph, which will detect low-energy . The Miniaturized Electron and Proton Telescope, developed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, will measure high-energy solar energetic particles. The Vector Helium Magnetometer, being built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will measure the strength and direction of magnetic fields.

"This is a valuable opportunity to add to our knowledge of solar energetic particles and weather by taking advantage of the SLS launch," Desai said. Space weather, caused by interactions between the solar wind and the Earth's magnetic field, can stress power grids and impact space technology. "CuSP will observe solar events in interplanetary space and give us significant insight into what drives space weather, helping scientists to improve their simulations."

Originally known as CuSPP, for CubeSat to study Solar Particles over the Poles, the satellite was designed to fly in low-Earth orbit, studying near Earth's poles. When NASA announced plans to fly CubeSats on SLS test flights, the team realized they had an opportunity to conduct interplanetary research for a fraction of the usual cost. With a small amount of additional funding by NASA's Heliophysics Technology and Instrument Development for Science program, the team is reconfiguring CuSP for interplanetary operations.

Explore further: Hitching a ride on SLS to study solar particles

Related Stories

Hitching a ride on SLS to study solar particles

February 26, 2016

A miniature research spacecraft, the CubeSat to study Solar Particles (CuSP), is one of the lucky projects that will hitch a ride on the historic first flight of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) in 2018. The microsatellite ...

Heliophysics CubeSat to launch on NASA's SLS

February 2, 2016

Just a bit bigger than a box of cereal, one of the first CubeSats to travel in interplanetary space will be NASA's miniature space science station, dedicated to studying the dynamic particles and magnetic fields that stream ...

Mini NASA satellite begins environmental testing

August 8, 2016

Construction of NASA's Dellingr CubeSat - a miniature satellite that provides a low-cost platform for missions - is complete, and the satellite has just left the lab for environmental testing. This is a key step after any ...

Coronal mass ejection headed toward Mercury and Venus

July 2, 2013

On July 1, 2013, at 6:09 p.m. EDT, the sun erupted with a coronal mass ejection, or CME, a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space that can affect electronic systems in satellites. Experimental ...

Recommended for you

Solar minimum surprisingly constant

November 17, 2017

Using more than a half-century of observations, Japanese astronomers have discovered that the microwaves coming from the sun at the minimums of the past five solar cycles have been the same each time, despite large differences ...

Lava or not, exoplanet 55 Cancri e likely to have atmosphere

November 16, 2017

Twice as big as Earth, the super-Earth 55 Cancri e was thought to have lava flows on its surface. The planet is so close to its star, the same side of the planet always faces the star, such that the planet has permanent day ...

SpaceX poised to launch secretive Zuma mission

November 16, 2017

SpaceX is poised to launch on Thursday a secretive payload known as Zuma for the US government, though the nature of the mission and the agency behind it remain a mystery.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.