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Rascal (SLU 04)

Rascal is a two-spacecraft mission designed by St. Louis University to demonstrate key technologies for proximity operations and space situational awareness: infrared imaging, 6DOF propulsion, RF proximity sensing, and automated operations. It consists of two 3U Cubesat spacecraft fastened to a common baseplate; the system launches as a single 6U

After the on-orbit checkout, one 3U spacecraft is released and passively drifts away; both spacecraft will observe the other in visible, IR and RF bands, determining the maximum range for each detection method. After a suitable distance, the released spacecraft will activate its propulsion system and return to within a few meters of the base. The second spacecraft will be released and the process repeated until the end of the mission.

Proximity operations is the ability to safely maneuver around of another, possibly non-cooperative, object - with ranges from hundreds of meters down to meters and even docking. Space situational awareness is the ability to determine the real-time space environment - both natural phenomena (solar wind, local electromagnetic activity, etc.) and artificial objects. Rascal will demonstrate key technologies for these applications using simple, inexpensive spacecraft:

  • Spacecraft detection. Rascal will characterize the effectiveness (i.e. range) of the following systems:
    • Infrared imaging
    • Visible imaging
    • Passive RF
  • Relative position. Rascal will use the IR and visible cameras to determine range and relative orientation (pose) between the two spacecraft.
  • Proximity maneuvers. Rascal carries cold-gas 6DOF propulsion (3 translation, 3 rotation) to allow each spacecraft to “orbit” the other. The propulsion unit will be 3D printed into a single unit, and uses R134a as its propellant.
  • Automated operations. Rascal’s spacecraft will be equipped with on-board software to automatically detect and maneuver, as well as automated fault handling.
  • Docking. This mission has not been finalized, but if the proximity operations technologies work as expected, the last activity of Rascal will be to re-dock with the baseplate using Velcro.

Rascal is an extension of the first two SLU spacecraft; it uses the SCARAB bus and COPPER’s infrared imaging system, augmented with additional sensors.

Rascal was selected in 2013 by NASA to be launched as part of the ELaNa program. It has apparently been cancelled.

Nation: USA
Type / Application: Technology
Operator: St. Louis University
Contractors: St. Louis University
Configuration: 2 × CubeSat (3U)
Propulsion: Micropropulsion system
Power: Solar cells, batteries
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
Rascal A (SLU 04) - cancelled with Rascal B
Rascal B (SLU 04) - cancelled with Rascal A