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Firefly

Firefly [NASA]

A new nano satellite mission, called Firefly, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. will explore the relationship between lightning and Terrestrial Gamma Ray Flashes (TGFs).

NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO) first discovered TGFs in the 1990s. Designed to look outward at cosmic sources of gamma rays, CGRO also caught rare but tantalizing glimpses of gamma rays coming from Earth.

TGFs are likely produced by beams of very energetic electrons, which are accelerated in the intense electric fields generated by large thunderstorm systems. Before CGRO, many scientists thought these very energetic types of radiation could be generated only near the Sun, or in black holes, large galaxies, or neutron stars.

Firefly will explore which types of lightning produce these electron beams and associated TGFs. In addition, Firefly will explore the occurrence rate of TGFs that are weaker than any previously been studied. The result with be a better understanding of the effect that the millions of lightning flashes that occur worldwide each day have on the Earth's upper atmosphere and near-Earth space environment.

The NSF CubeSat program represents a new "low cost access to space" approach to performing high-quality, targeted science on a smaller budget than is typical of larger satellite projects, which have price tags starting at $100 million. In contrast, the CubeSat Firefly will carry out its science mission in a much smaller package and at a considerably lower cost. The nano satellite is about the size of a football (4 by 4 by 12 inches). The cost to develop, launch, and operate Firefly for three years during its science mission is expected to be less than $1 million.

The Firefly mission also emphasizes student involvement as part of the ongoing effort to train the next generation of scientists and engineers. Students at Siena College, in Loudonville, N.Y., and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, in Princess Anne, Md., will be involved in all phases of the Firefly mission.

Firefly is funded and managed by the National Science Foundation, and will be developed as a collaborative effort by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Universities Space Research Association (USRA), Columbia, Md.; Siena College; University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Princess Anne, Md.; and the Hawk Institute for Space Sciences, in Pocomoke City, Md.

NASA Goddard, USRA, and Siena College will provide the instrument payload, while the Hawk Institute will build the CubeSat. NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., will provide technical oversight for the integration of Firefly to the launch vehicle.

Firefly's launch date was planned to be in 2010 or 2011. The micro satellite will fly as a secondary payload inside a Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer (P-POD) provided by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif. Firefly will utilize the excess room and lift capacity not required by the primary mission payload. It was finally orbited at the End of 2013.

Nation: USA
Type / Application: Magnetospheric Research
Operator: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Contractors: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Equipment:
Configuration: CubeSat (3U)
Propulsion: None
Power: Solar cells, batteries
Lifetime:
Mass: 3 kg ?
Orbit:
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
Firefly 2013-064AA 20.11.2013 WI LA-0B Minotaur-1 with STPSat 3, ORS 3, ORSES, ORS Tech 1, ORS Tech 2, SENSE 1, SENSE 2, Ho`oponopono 2, STARE B (Horus), Prometheus 1, Prometheus 2, Prometheus 3, Prometheus 4, Prometheus 5, Prometheus 6, Prometheus 7, Prometheus 8, Black Knight 1, NPS-SCAT, COPPER, ChargerSat 1, TJ3Sat, Trailblazer 1, Vermont Lunar Cubesat, SwampSat, CAPE 2, DragonSat 1, KySat 2, PhoneSat v2.4