NASA satellite phones home to confirm orbit

OCSD launched aboard an Atlas V rocket last week from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NASA satellite phones home to confirm orbit

Washington: The first of NASA's new miniature satellites that was launched last week has radioed back to confirm it is in orbit and operational.

NASA and The Aerospace Corporation, California, received confirmation that the Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) CubeSat spacecraft is in orbit and operational. OCSD launched aboard an Atlas V rocket last week from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

OCSD is the first in a new series of six NASA-managed technology demonstration missions set to launch during the coming months using CubeSats to test technologies that can enable new uses for these miniature satellites, which measure 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm (about 4 inches per side).

NASA, other government agencies, academia and commercial companies can incorporate these technologies, which range from high-speed communications to novel propulsion systems to technologies that enable rendezvous and docking, into future space missions.

"Technology demonstration missions like OCSD are driving exploration," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"By improving the communication capability of small spacecraft to support data-intensive science missions, OCSD will advance the potential to become a more viable option for mission planners," said Jurczyk.

OCSD differs from other space-based laser communication systems because the laser is hard-mounted to the spacecraft body, and the orientation of the CubeSat controls the direction of the beam, NASA said.

This makes the laser system more compact than anything previously flown in space.

The CubeSat will evaluate the ability to point a small satellite accurately as it demonstrates data transfer by laser at rates of up to 200 Mb/s - a factor of 100 increase over current high-end CubeSat communications systems.

The second OCSD mission, scheduled to launch no earlier than February 1 next year, will use two CubeSats to demonstrate the ability to manoeuvre small spacecraft in close proximity to one another using low-cost sensors and a novel propulsion system that uses water as a propellant, NASA said.

This technology can enhance the ability of small spacecraft to work in coordination with other satellites to explore asteroids, planets and moons, as well as inspecting other spacecraft.

Also aboard the Atlas V were four CubeSats selected through the CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) as part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) XII mission. The satellites successfully deployed from their protective cases and are in orbit.

The CubeSats' transmitters turned on, and ground stations listened for their beacons to determine the small satellites' functionality.

These CubeSats will test new small satellite control and communications systems, Earth observations, amateur radio communications and an X-Band radio science transponder. 

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