Aerospace’s CubeSat Milestones

The Aerospace Corporation’s AeroCube program demonstrates the value of continuous development: each flight is an opportunity to identify improvements for the future.
AeroCube 4 in orbit, artist rendering
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Accelerating the Space Enterprise with Small Satellite Technology

The Aerospace Corporation continues to make cutting-edge advances in the capabilities of CubeSats, both in supporting technologies and in mission results. The technology roadmap for the AeroCube program includes significant developments in several areas, many of which extend capabilities Aerospace has already developed, and some of which will extend into entirely new directions.

In the next five years, the AeroCube program strives to develop and demonstrate several key enabling technologies. The future of the AeroCube program will be focusing on advanced autonomy and maneuverability, onboard processing using artificial intelligence, space networking technologies and going to higher orbits — including GEO — where the consequences of mission errors are much higher.

Aerospace’s partners in industry are focused on similar objectives, but as an FFRDC, the company will be exploring the full spectrum of technologies to ensure the best innovations in SmallSats are being delivered to the space enterprise. As it has done in the past, Aerospace will continue to share and transition these capabilities to its customers and industry partners.

Here are some of the near-term investments and demonstrations planned:

  • S-band communications with NSA-certified cryptography that could enable future classified missions and payloads.
  • Radiation tolerant onboard computing that is still compact and low power to enable future missions above low Earth orbit.
  • Advanced rendezvous and proximity operations capabilities, including autonomous formation control. This could enable future distributed aperture collection missions and in-space inspection of other spacecraft.
  • Large delta-V propulsion capability, greater than 1 km/s. This could help expand potential rendezvous and proximity operations mission options.
  • Advanced optical communication links both from space to ground at higher data rates and crosslinking between CubeSats.
  • Standardized payload interfaces that allow for complex payload hosting with stressing power, data and timing requirements.

A Legacy of Innovation and Progress

The Aerospace Corporation’s AeroCube program has a long track record of demonstrating the value of continuous development, with every flight suggesting improvements to be incorporated in subsequent flights. Aerospace’s AeroCube program has demonstrated many technological and mission firsts. In addition, multiple publications based on the AeroCube program have had a significant impact on the small satellite industry.

Here are a few highlights and milestone achievements of the AeroCube program:

  • AeroCube 6 - medium
    AC-6 was the first to show that variable atmospheric drag via orientation control could be used to manage relative orbit spacing.
    First tracking and comm from a containerized satellite. (OPAL Picosatellites)
  • First 3-axis, stabilized CubeSat to demonstrate 1 degree pointing accuracy. (AeroCube-4)
  • First CubeSat to demonstrate orbit control using variable drag profiles. (AeroCube-4 and AeroCube-6)
  • First space-to-ground optical communication link from a CubeSat. (AeroCube-7)
  • First optical illumination of resident space objects and ground assets from a CubeSat.
  • First to demonstrate commercial infrared cameras from a CubeSat to perform military and civilian missions. (AeroCube-15)
    AeroCube 10 - close approach - medium
    AC-10 performed the closest rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) demonstration.
  • First water-based propulsion demonstration and first CubeSat propulsion system to meet International Space Station safety standards. (AeroCube-7)
  • First demonstration of a solid rocket motor propulsion system on a CubeSat. (PSSCT-1 and PSSCT-2)
  • Closest rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) demonstration for a CubeSat and first CubeSat to collect imagery of another CubeSat as part of an RPO demonstration. (AeroCube-10)
  • Developed and published a streamlined assembly methodology for adhering solar cells using double-sided polysiloxane pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) polyimide film. This Aerospace-developed process has achieved wide-scale industry adoption, helping to decrease cost and improve reliability.
    PSSCT-2 photo taken in space - medium
    PSSCT-2 taking a photo of STS-135 in 2011. The last photo captured of a space shuttle on-orbit.
  • Developed and published shape-memory alloy actuators for small satellites. This innovation enables resettable release mechanisms that have resulted in 100% deployment success for Aerospace small satellite missions.
  • Of historical significance, the last image taken of a space shuttle on-orbit. (PSSCT-2 on STS-135)