NASA SmallSat News

NASA SmallSat News

May 2018

IceCube’s First Global Map of Ice Clouds


IceCube has created a global map of these ice clouds around the planet, which could someday help improve models and forecasts. Credit: NASA Goddard, Jennifer Brill

Looking at Earth from the International Space Station, astronauts see big, white clouds spreading across the planet. They cannot distinguish a gray rain cloud from a puffy white cloud. While satellites can see through many clouds and estimate the liquid precipitation they hold, they cannot see the smaller ice particles that create enormous rain clouds.
An experimental small satellite has filled this void and captured the first global picture of the small frozen particles inside clouds, normally called ice clouds. Deployed from the space station in May 2017, IceCube is testing instruments for their ability to make space-based measurements of the small, frozen crystals that make up ice clouds.
Over the past year, engineers tested the satellite’s limits while on orbit. They wanted to see if the instrument’s batteries stored enough power to run 24 hours. IceCube charges its batteries when the Sun shines on its solar arrays. During the test, although safeguards prevented the satellite from losing all its power and ending the mission, the test was successful. The batteries operated the IceCube all night and recharged during the day. This change made the CubeSat more valuable for science data collection.
Read more at:
May 2018

Two NASA ELaNa CubeSat Projects Illustrate the Program’s Function as an Educational Platform


Launch of NOAA’s JPSS-1 satellite on Nov. 18, 2017.
Credit: NASA

Two educational CubeSat missions were selected through the CubeSat Launch Initiative as part of the 14th installment of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) missions. The ELaNa XIV mission was an auxiliary payload on the Nov. 18, 2017, launch of the Joint Polar Satellite System-1 satellite (now NOAA-20), a collaborative effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA.
Learn about the post-launch status pf the RadFxSat (a partnership between students at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, and AMSAT, a worldwide group of amateur radio operators) and the EagleSat-1 (a Space Grant project out of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona) at
May 2018

Small Packages to Test Big Space Technology Advances


The RainCube 6U CubeSat with fully-deployed antenna.
Credit: NASA JPL-CalTech

When a recent cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station lifted off from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, it carried among its supplies and experiments three cereal box-sized satellites that will be used to test and demonstrate the next generation of Earth-observing technology. NASA has been increasing its use of CubeSats to put new technologies in orbit where they can be tested in the harsh environment of space before being used as part of larger satellite missions or constellations of spacecraft. The three CubeSat missions launched on Orbital ATK’s ninth commercial resupply mission represent a broad range of cutting-edge technologies housed in very small packages.
December 2017

EcAMSat and TechEdSat-6


EcAMSat’s microfluidics card, connected to a series of storage bags that can contain nutrients, waste, antibiotics, and a special dye. Photo Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

NASA launched EcAMSat and TechEdSat-6 to the International Space Station on Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Nov. 12. EcAMSat – the E. coli Anti-Microbial Satellite – is a small satellite containing a miniature biology lab, developed and constructed at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in California’s Silicon Valley. EcAMSat is taking E. coli into low-Earth orbit to conduct a science investigation aimed at improving astronaut health.
To read more about EcAMSat, see:

Deployment of the Exo-Brake device. Photo Credit : NASA

The Technology Educational Satellite, or TechEdSat-6, was released into low-Earth orbit from the NanoRacks platform on Nov. 20, to begin a series of wireless sensor experiments which will be the first self-powered tests, expanding the capabilities of sensor networks for future ascent or re-entry systems. This is the fourth TechEdSat satellite carrying an updated version of the Exo-Brake that will demonstrate guided controlled re-entry of small spacecraft to safely return science experiments from space.
Read more at:
NASA to Test Advanced Space Wireless Network and Device for Returning Small Spacecraft to Earth
December 2017

NASA Begins Checkout of Dellingr Spacecraft Designed to Improve Robustness of CubeSat Platforms


The Dellingr spacecraft right before its release. Photo Credit: Nanoracks

NASA ground controllers have begun checking out and commissioning a shoebox-sized spacecraft that the agency purposely built to show that CubeSat platforms could be cost-effective, reliable, and capable of gathering highly robust science.
Read more at:
NASA Begins Checkout of Dellingr Spacecraft Designed to Improve Robustness of CubeSat Platforms
November 2017

NASA CubeSat Missions: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology


Credit: Nanoracks

NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program is on the countdown clock to advance communications and proximity maneuvering capabilities for CubeSats with two separate technology demonstration missions. The Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) mission will showcase the first-ever high-speed data downlink from a CubeSat to a ground station using lasers, in addition to maneuvering the pair of diminutive spacecraft to up-close proximity. Also set for demonstration is the Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA) mission. A reflectarray is a relatively new type of antenna fabricated from standard printed circuit boards with an array of square copper patches etched on them.
These innovative satellites were carried onboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus advanced maneuvering spacecraft, a commercial resupply vehicle that will berth to the International Space Station (ISS). Atop the Orbital ATK’s Antares booster, the Cygnus commercial resupply mission launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Nov. 12.
Read more about these CubeSat missions at:

October 2017

Request for Information: Possible NASA Astrophysics SmallSats

Response due: November 30, 2017
Through request for information (RFI) NNH17ZDA010L NASA’s Astrophysics Division seeks SmallSats mission concepts in two separate topic areas that could fulfill NASA astrophysics science goals as described in the 2014 NASA Science Plan.
Topic 1 (“Science Mission Concepts”), would capitalize on the creativity in the astrophysics community to envision compelling missions advancing compelling astrophysics science that can be realized involving small satellites (SmallSats) at a cost between that of Astrophysics CubeSats, which are currently solicited through the Astrophysics Research and Analysis (APRA) element of the Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) NASA Research Announcement, and Astrophysics Explorers Small Complete Missions, which are currently solicited as Astrophysics Explorers Missions of Opportunity.
Topic 2 (“Advanced Technology Concepts”), solicits ideas for advanced mission concepts advancing compelling astrophysics science and involving SmallSats for which significant investments in instrument and/or spacecraft technologies would be required. Advanced concept missions are defined to be beyond the horizon of near-term solicitations. Such mission concepts are not limited by cost but rather by their realization using small satellites.
The information in response to Topic 1 will be used to inform NASA’s program planning, including consideration of whether to competitively solicit NASA-funded U.S. SmallSats as astrophysics science missions. In addition, the information in response to both Topics 1 and 2 will be used to help craft new topics for future technology solicitations in the Science Mission Directorate and the Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Responses to this RFI may be provided by November 30, 2017 as PDF of no more than 5 pages uploaded via NSPIRES in response to NNH17ZDA010L. For more information about this RFI and detailed instructions on how to respond please see the full text of this call on the NSPIRES web page for this RFI, which may be found by directly downloading theRequest for Information: Possible NASA Astrophysics SmallSats (.PDF) or by going to! and searching on “NNH17ZDA010L”.
After reading the full text of NNH17ZDA010L, questions may be directed to Dr. Michael R. Garcia (subject line to read “Question on Astrophysics SmallSat RFI”). Responses to all inquiries will be answered via Email and also posted to a FAQ under “Other documents” on the NSPIRES page for this RFI. Anonymity of persons/institutions who submit questions will be preserved.

October 2017

NASA Announces New Technology App Availability

The newest edition of our Technology Innovation app is now available for download in the iTunes and Google Play stores. This digital content can be viewed on iPhones, iPads, or Android platforms as well as on the web:
Each issue of this publication features space technology innovators and project developments across NASA, highlighting the American inventors, entrepreneurs and application engineers who have transformed space exploration technologies into products that benefit the nation. Volume 17, Issue 3 focuses on Small Spacecraft technology development across the agency, including propulsion systems, the Mars Cube One demonstration as well as other commercial collaborations.
September 2017

NASA Issues a Request for Information for SmallSat Parts on Orbit Now (SPOON) Database

NASA’s Small Spacecraft Systems Virtual Institute (S3VI) announces a Request for Information, the purpose of which is to gather and assess the availability and capability of industry to provide small satellites technologies, components, and systems relevant to small spacecraft for Earth and interplanetary mission design.
Areas of interest include: Structures; Materials & Mechanisms; Complete Spacecraft Platforms; Communications; Propulsion; Power; Command and Data Handling; Attitude Determination & Control; Thermal Systems; Software (Architectures, Methodologies); Guidance, Navigation, and Control; Spacecraft Integration; Launch and Deployment; Optoelectronics; and Deorbit Mechanisms.
For more information, click here.

August 2017

NASA’s New Small Spacecraft Systems Virtual Institute (S3VI)

In light of strong growth in the use of small spacecraft by US Government, academic, and industry partners, NASA is actively involved across its mission directorates and Centers in all aspects of small spacecraft missions, and is leveraging its capabilities to enable small spacecraft as new innovation tools to achieve Agency goals and objectives. Paramount in this endeavor is advancing clear communication, coordination, and consistent guidance regarding small spacecraft activities, and to provide the US research community access to mission enabling information.

Bruce Yost – S3VI Director, NASA Ames Research Center

To this end, the Small Spacecraft Systems Virtual Institute (S3VI) was established in January to enhance NASA internal integration and to provide a single point of contact to disseminate mission enabling information and streamlined development approaches for NASA and the research community. Functioning under the auspices of the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), the S3VI is hosted at the Ames Research Center, with Bruce Yost as the Director. A project manager for Ames’ early small spacecraft missions and a former Small Spacecraft Technology Program manager, Yost and his team will work over the next year to establish both a physical and virtual presence for the S3VI within NASA and the small spacecraft community at large.
The S3VI provides a portal for exchange of information on small spacecraft activities across NASA, among other federal agencies, and with external groups. Over the next several months the S3VI plans to release the first of its federated small spacecraft databases as well as to host an online seminar series open to the public. The S3VI portal may be accessed at
Click here to view an August 2017 PowerPoint presentation for an S3VI Overview and Update.