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NASA Selects University Small Spacecraft Researchers

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 8, 2015
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WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected eight university teams to collaborate on developing and demonstrating new technologies and capabilities for small spacecraft. The selected teams will work with engineers and scientists from NASA under a cooperative agreement, beginning in Fall 2015. The goal is to develop technologies for small spacecraft–some of which weigh only a few pounds–that dramatically enhance their ability to serve as powerful and affordable platforms for science, exploration and commercial space missions.

The winning proposals constitute the second round of projects under the Smallsat Technology Partnerships initiative, which is managed by the Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP). Of the 13 projects selected during the inaugural 2013 call, two have secured NASA-sponsored launch opportunities to demonstrate newly developed technologies in space. With the success of the original set of projects, SSTP now plans annual solicitations with between five and 10 selection awards per year.

“There is a vibrant small spacecraft community within America’s universities, and with this initiative, NASA seeks to increase our collaboration with that community,” said Andrew Petro, program executive for SSTP within the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The universities will benefit from the deep experience that NASA has in space research and technology, while NASA will benefit from fresh ideas and cost-conscious innovation at the universities.”

The Smallsat Technology Partnerships selections this year were focused on developing and demonstrating new capabilities in four topic areas: precise attitude control and pointing systems for CubeSats; power generation, energy storage and thermal management systems for small spacecraft; simple low-cost de-orbit systems; and communications and tracking systems and networks.

The cooperative agreement with NASA includes annual university funding of up to $100,000 per year for two years and NASA civil servant support for the collaborative work.

The 2015 selected teams are:

  • Purdue University
    • “Micro-electromechanical Reaction Control and Maneuvering Beyond Low Earth Orbit”
  • University of Arkansas
    • “Solid State Inflation Balloon Active Deorbiter”
  • University of Illinois
    • “Small Spacecraft Integrated Power System with Active Thermal Control”
  • University of Maryland
    • “Propellantless Attitude Control of Solar Sails Using Reflective Control Devices”
  • University of Michigan
    • “Miniaturized Phonon Trap Timing Units for Position, Navigation and Timing”
  • University of Vermont and Worcester Polytechnic Institute
    • “Design and Validation of High Data Rate Ka-Band Software Defined Radio for Small Satellites”
  • Utah State University
    • “Integrated Solar-Panel Antenna Array for CubeSats”
    • “Active CryoCubeSat”

The NASA centers involved include Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California; Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama; Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

More information about selected teams and projects for the Smallsat Technology Partnerships can be seen online at:

For information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit:

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