The 21st Annual Conference on Small Satellites, August 13-16, 2007 at Utah State University focused on mission that make them uniquely capable platforms, either individually or in constellations. Here’s their schedule, technical sessions, list of exhibitors and proceedings.

A CubeSat, explains WikiPedia, is cheap and small, only 10×10×10 centimetres (a volume of exactly one litre), weighing no more than one kilogram. They typically use commercial off-the-shelf components. CubeSats can be built and launched for an estimated US$65,000–80,000 each. A “nanosat” has a mass between 1 and 10 kg while a “picosat” weighs between 0.1 and 1 kg. Formation flying lets multiple satellites work together.

Small satellites can be an enabling, even disruptive technology. They can provide the first images of a disaster event, connect remote regions to medical assistance and enable a warfighter to see over the hill in real time, or robotically explore the surface of a near-Earth asteroid.

Utah State spends more than any other college in the United States on aeronautical and astronomical research, according to a survey done by the National Science Foundation. The 4th Annual CubeSat Developers’ Summer Workshop this week included Calpoly and the University of Louisiana, leaders in Cubesat development. Portland State’s Aerospace Team uses open source software and rockets (MP-3).

Recent Microsat Missions and Future Missions include:

  • NASA’s Space Technology 5 (ST5), a three micro-satellite constellation, was deployed last year. The spacecraft were maintained in a “pearls on a string” constellation with controlled spacing ranging from just over 5000 km down to under 50 km. NASA’s near-term Robotic Lunar Exploration Program (RLEP) is an enhancement to the Micro-X design that includes additional communication and data relay technologies with the Lunar Robotic Orbiter as a pathfinder for a mission to the Lunar South Pole.
  • Surrey Satellite Technology will summarize the results of a hyperspectral imaging mission that has now completed more than five years in orbit and is providing a wealth of data to Users across the world. Surrey Satellite Technology is a privately-owned British company, that has launched 27 small satellite missions for international customers and employs 230 staff working on LEO, GEO and interplanetary missions.
  • The Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) is developing enabling technologies in collaboration with the University of Calgary for future precise formation flying missions.
  • The DOD’s Tactical Satellites (TacSats) are part of the Operational Responsive Space (ORS) demonstration program to develop rapid response, low cost, small satellites. TacSat-2’s payload supports a 274 Mbps downlink and a 200 Kbps uplink, allowing for responsive tasking and collection. Late in 2007, TacSat-3 (pdf) will take networking and multiple data rates to a new level, demonstrating direct theater tasking, collection and dissemination. The satellite will support a 274 Mbps downlink data rate in addition to lower data rates for potential Remote Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) connectivity.

In other news, Boeing has completed the first phase of its nano-satellite research and experimentation. With the successful conclusion of the CubeSat TestBed 1 (CSTB1) mission, Boeing is evaluating approaches for future operational nano-satellites — spacecraft weighing less than 22 pounds (10 kg). Pico-satellites like CSTB1 weigh less than 3 pounds (1 kg).

The program is now entering an optional test phase to support additional experiments such as taking more photographs using CubeSat’s ultra-low power imager and evaluating non-traditional attitude control algorithms.

The Autonomous Nanosatellite Guardian Evaluating Local Space (ANGELS) Nanosatellite Program is run by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate, located at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. ANGELS will autonomously navigate around other spacecraft, acting as an in-orbit guard. It will use a Proton200k Computer, capable of 900 MFLOPS, from Space Micro. They’re a part of the team lead by Lockheed, along with Space Dynamics Laboratory, part of Utah State University’s Research Foundation.

ANGELS would be the size of a small suitcase, and during launch would piggyback on the satellite that it is intended to monitor. Once in orbit, “we would detach and then stay in local space” near the other satellite, says Stan Kennedy, the ANGELS program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado.

Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) is an effort to develop smaller, less expensive satellites that can launch on short notice. ORS may be driven by cost overruns in multi-billion dollar projects as much as anything. The Space-based Infrared System (SBIRS) High and National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) have just emerged from Nunn-McCurdy breaches (GAO pdf). GPS 2-F and Advanced EHF are behind schedule, and the Transformational Communications Satellite System (TSAT) and Space Radar have undergone or are undergoing major program restructuring. Stealth satellites (that aren’t) have burned up billions more.

The EELV heavy rocket program itself is $14B over its original $17B budget. The cost overrun for the Air Force-run program is about as much as NASA’s entire annual budget. Small wonder that Boeing and Lockheed officials wrap themselves in the American flag when asking Congress for more money.

Global leadership and innovation is coming from Canada, France, Japan, China and India. RADARSAT-2, Canada’s next-generation commercial SAR satellite, is scheduled to launch December, 2007, from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Spot satellite imagery will be delivered by optical space links soon. Japan and China are also going to the Moon.

Formation flying in the “A” train of Earth Resources satellites is proving cost/effective.

The EELV Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA), is a ring placed under an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) primary payload. It supports up to six 180-kg secondary spacecraft which may increase the availability and lower cost for secondary payloads. Or perhaps not.

The MESSENGER project is the seventh in NASA’s Discovery Program of lower-cost, scientifically focused space missions.

More down to earth, Aeris, a leading Machine-to-Machine (M2M) provider, supplies management information systems for farmers and orchardists. Automata uses mini-sats. Sensor standards such as ZigBee may make data collection more cost/effective. Satellite constellations can supply backhaul.

The Mars Phoenix Lander was launched on 4 August 2007 from Cape Canaveral. It is designed to study the surface and near-surface environment of a landing site in the high northern area of Mars. The primary science objectives are to: determine polar climate and weather, interaction with the surface, and composition of the lower atmosphere around 70 degrees north for at least 90 sols. The HiRISE camera, on board Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, photographed possible landing sites.

The Mars trip will take 10 months, with landing on Mars on 25 May of 2008. The spacecraft is not mobile, it is supported on three landing legs. The science experiments and a robotic arm are mounted on the base. Communication will be primarity through UHF relay via the Mars 2001 Odyssey orbiter, but Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Express can also be used as relays, and Phoenix has a steerable medium gain X-band antenna to provide communications directly with Earth.

Both Mars Express and the Mars rovers use the same communication protocol. This protocol, called Proximity-1, was developed by the international Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems, an international partnership for standardizing techniques for handling space data. CCSDS provides a forum for discussion of common problems of space data systems. Some 346 missions utilize the protocol.

Space news resources include; SpaceDaily,, Space News, SpaceFlightNow, SpaceRef, Florida Today, Jonathan’s Space Report, Gunter’s Space Page, Satellite Constellations, Satellite Database, Lloyd Wood LEO Sats, Aviation Week, Houston Chronicle, Washington Post, HeadlineSpot, CBS News, CNN, MSNBC, Berkeley Space Physics, Johns Hopkins, Ball Aerospace, BAE Systems, EADS Astrium, Surrey Satellite, SpaceDev, Microsat Systems, MacDonald-Dettwiler, Orbital Science, NASA Sites, NASA Space Data Center, JPL, Canadian Space Agency, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, Chinese Space Program, CNES, European Space Agency, Indian Space Program, ISRO, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Russian Space Agency, Russian Space Web, Planetary Blog, Satellite tracking software and J-Track 3D.

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