CubeSats are a class of nanosatellites research spacecraft that are built to standard dimensions of 10cm x 10cm x 10cm. Originally developed in 1999 by California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and Stanford University, the CubeSat Launch initiative provides opportunities for nanosatellite science and technology payloads built by universities, schools and nonprofit organizations to ride share on space launches. CubeSats now provide a cost effective platform for scientific investigations, new technology demonstrations, and advanced mission concepts.
In 2020 NASA selected USM, UMaine and a trio of k-12 schools to build a set of CubeSats to carry auxiliary payloads into space between 2021–23. The University of Maine’s graduate students in collaboration with the University of Southern Maine (USM) undergraduate students are providing CubeSat design, development, integration and testing. Payload proposals were led by Saco Middle School, Fryeburg Academy and Falmouth High School.
NASA’s Cubesat Launch Initiative has a goal to have all 50 states participate by developing and launching nanosatellites, says Terry Shehata, director of the Maine Space Grant Consortium. The consortium launched a statewide competition in January 2019 to all Maine school districts for CubeSat project proposals to the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative. Out of the 11 proposals submitted, the following three payloads were selected:
- The first payload proposed by Saco Middle School, dubbed ALBEDO will investigate the impact of albedo (fraction of solar irradiation reflected back into space) on local temperature. The goal is to compare temperature and albedo across urban and rural areas. The low Earth orbit space test environment offers the ability to collect and analyze vast quantities of relevant data. The purpose of the analysis is to determine whether or not urban heat islands can be mitigated through architectural designs that maximize albedo.
- The second payload proposed by Fryeburg Academy, IMAGER, will be used to study an application of a low-cost remote sensing tool for coastal estuaries as a STEM activity. The goal is to develop a remote sensing tool by modifying a digital camera to image shallow, coastal waters to distinguish water quality properties such as turbidity and phytoplankton concentration.
- The third payload proposed by Falmouth High School, HAB, will study harmful algal blooms to see if they increase atmospheric temperature and water vapor levels in the atmosphere above them. Developing the capacity to monitor and identify algal blooms from orbit will provide a simple way to track the development, distribution and dispersion of blooms. If a correlation between humidity and the temperature of the atmosphere and the sea surface in the vicinity of HABs is established, it will be easier to detect when an algal bloom is growing.
The MIST Lab is working with USM Engineering, Science and Technology, and Environmental Science faculty to set up a ground station for the satellites and we are using 3D Printers to prototype the body of the Cubesat itself.
This project is being led by Ali Abedi, UMaine professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Assistant Vice President for Research and Director of the Center for Undergraduate Research along with Jeremy Qualls, USM professor of Physics and Dean of the College of Science, Technology, and Health; and Jason Goldstein, Director of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve.
MESAT1 was awarded $300,000 from NASA and $150,000 from the NASA Maine Space Grant Consortium for graduate student research. Additional funding from UMaine and USM to support undergraduate student research brings the total funding for MESAT1 to $522,000 over three years.