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CUSat (Nanosat 4)

CUSat (2 satellites) [Cornell University]

CUSat (Cornell University Satellite) project is a multi-year effort to design, build, and launch an end-to-end autonomous on orbit inspection system. The CUSat system will demonstrate a process through which one satellite can diagnose the structural health and configuration of another.

The space segment was to consist of two functionally identical satellites that would launch together and separate on orbit in a target-inspector configuration. Once in orbit, CUSat was to use microthrust Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPTs) and sub-centimeter level accurate Carrier-phase Differential GPS (CDGPS) to navigate the satellites to within ten meters of each other. The inspector satellite was to use cameras to gather imagery of the target satellite while performing relative navigation. Target satellite imagery was to be transferred to the ground segment where they were to be used to reconstruct a three dimensional model for the end user.

CUSat was the winner of the University Nanosat-4 Program which aims to educate the future aerospace workforce and develop new space technologies. CUSat was one of the three candidate payloads for the quick reaction "Jumpstart" launch in 2008 on a Falcon-1 launch vehicle. Which payload was to be launched was decided only two weeks before the launch, but CUSat lost.

In late 2010, it was announced, that CUSat was manifested as a piggyback payload on a Falcon-9 v1.0 rocket launch for October 2011-January 2012, later switched to the maiden Falcon-9 v1.1(ex) launch in 2013 from Vandenberg AFB.

In summer 2013, the CUSat-Top satellite was damaged during pre-launch vibration tests. Therefore only the CUSat-Bottom satellite was the only working satellite launched, reducing the scope of the mission. CUSat-Top was reduced to deadweight permanently attached to the upper stage carrying the CUSat-Bottom satellite in the top position.

With only one working satellite launched, the scope of the mission was changed to test the accuracy of the centimeter accuracy carrier-phase differential GPS (CDGPS) to less than 10 cm by comparing the CDGPS navigation solution to the known distance between GPS antennas. The satellite, being equipped with a camera, will also capture imagery, of the Earth, the Moon, and the comet ISON, and send these images to a ground station on Earth. The nano-satellite is also equipped with Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPTs). These will be tested last, once the other mission objectives have been verified.

The CUSat team conducted operations for 18 days with regular communication with the satellite before losing contact with it.

Nation: USA
Type / Application: Technology
Operator: Cornell University
Contractors: Cornell University Engineering
Equipment: CDGPS, CCD-cameras
Configuration: Hexagonal prism
Propulsion: Pulsed Plasma Thrusters Micropropulsion
Power: Solar cells, batteries
Mass: 25 kg
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
CUSat (Nanosat 4A) (ex CUSat Bottom) 2013-055B 29.09.2013 Va SLC-4E Falcon-9 v1.1(ex) with CASSIOPE 1, DANDE, POPACS 1, POPACS 2, POPACS 3
CUSat Top (Nanosat 4B) 2013-055G 29.09.2013 Va SLC-4E Falcon-9 v1.1(ex) with CASSIOPE 1, CUSat Bottom, DANDE, POPACS 1, POPACS 2, POPACS 3 / launched as non-working ballast