Virginia CubeSat Constellation

Background

The low cost and increasing utility of CubeSats present the opportunity to conduct student-based missions that can address many of society’s technical and scientific needs. This includes furthering our understanding of Earth and space science, as well as developing new space technology that will enhance our space exploration capabilities.

The Virginia CubeSat Constellation (VCC) mission is a joint collaboration of science and engineering students from Hampton University, Old Dominion University (ODU), University of Virginia (UVA), and Virginia Tech (VT), sponsored by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium and NASA. The mission involves the construction and completion of three 1U CubeSats, all independently designed, tested, and validated by the universities students.

All three CubeSats will be deployed from the International Space Station and orbit the Earth in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), passing over Virginia at least every two days. There are three ground stations supporting the VCC mission: one in Blacksburg, VA at VT, one in Charlottesville, VA at UVA, and one in Hampton, VA at ODU. Mission operations will be continuously monitored during the mission lifetime, which may exceed two months.

Primary Mission Objectives

  • Provide a hands-on, student-led flight project experience for undergraduate students by designing, developing, integrating, testing and flying an orbital constellation of three 1U CubeSats
  • Obtain measurements of the orbital decay of a constellation of satellites to develop a database of atmospheric drag and the variability of atmospheric properties
  • Evaluate and demonstrate a system to determine and communicate relative and absolute spacecraft position across an orbiting constellation

Secondary Mission Objectives

  • Develop a team of students from Old Dominion University, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and Hampton University to work effectively under the umbrella of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC)
  • Test Ultem 9085 as a CubeSat structural material
  • Evaluate the accuracy of optical attitude determination
  • Provide a service for amateur radio enthusiasts

Summary of Science/Technology Investigation

Hampton University

The team at Hampton University is taking on the role of predicting the best conditions and parameters to launch the CubeSat in order to ensure an accurate and precise measurement of atmospheric drag.

Old Dominion University

A 1U chassis was developed to incorporate the use of customized printed circuit boards and the storage of a drag brake cavity. The drag brake was developed as a proof-of-concept to assist in documenting orbital lifetime decay.

University of Virginia

The UVA CubeSat will test a new UHF antenna provided by EnduroSat. This antenna is being tested for the first time in a space flight environment as part of the VCC mission. The GPS receiver (piNAV-L1/FM) and the GPS antenna (piPATCH-L1/FM) were procured from SkyFox Labs.

Virginia Tech

The 1U chassis used will be made of a 3D printed material donated by Orbital ATK. The material is similar to the commercially available material ULTEM 9085. Virginia Tech is partnering with Embry Riddle Aeronautical University to use optical methods to determine spacecraft attitude while in flight.

All universities will be working to leverage already existing technology being flown as a method to provide an amateur radio service. This service will allow general users to transmit messages over long distances by hopping their message across the radio equipment onboard the constellation.

In The News

The Virginia CubeSat Constellation has attracted a lot of attention lately with a number of published articles.

An article, recently published in the Virginian Pilot, can be found here.

A story about the project published in the University of Virginia magazine Illimitable can be viewed here.

An article about the project published in The Progress Index can be viewed here.

Another article from the the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at University of Virginia can be found here.