Virginia Space, in partnership with Northrop Grumman, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Twiggs Space Lab, and NearSpace Launch (NSL), has created a low-cost, short-term program to increase student engagement and interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related fields.
Lead institutions are invited into the program with the primary objective of being mentors to the STEM outreach schools within their regions. This allows for following schools to build a working relationship with the lead institutions’ professors and students.
Through the use of ThinSats, a small satellite capable of transmitting data from Extreme Low Earth Orbit (ELEO), students from grades 4-12 to the university level can assist and develop satellite hardware, test sensor components with low and high-altitude balloon flights, analyze data, and launch an actual payload into space. Through Virginia Space's partnership with Northrop Grumman, ThinSats fly as secondary payloads aboard the Antares rocket, reducing cost and increasing launch availability.
What is a ThinSat?
ThinSats are picosatellites with dimensions of 11.1 x 11.4 x 1.25 cm and a mass of approximately 280g. They are a specially designed tool for education and in-orbit data collection. Smaller satellites reduce the cost and size constraints of traditional satellites while still providing the opportunity to explore outer space.
ThinSat Quick Facts:
- Roughly the size of a slice of bread
- Charges via solar panels
- Utilizes a small battery during orbit for power
- Has an approximate 5-day orbit lifetime
- No space debris after ThinSat de-orbit
- Single satellite with simple mission
ThinSats are connected by articulating fanfolds to form “strings” and together these individual strings form the larger ThinSat constellation. Shortly after deployment, the satellites begin transmitting data. Each ThinSat transmits health and safety packets along with sensor readings and any custom packet information. All data is sent to the Space Data Dashboard, where students monitor their satellites. By the end of the program, students have gone from initial idea, to build phase, to launching a satellite into space.
A total of 30 ThinSats will be launched into low earth orbit on February 20 at 12:36 p.m. as part of Northrop Grumman’s NG-15 mission. ThinSats will deploy 818 and 828 seconds (approximately 13 minutes and 42 seconds) after launch at approximately 12:49 p.m. Health pings are expected at approximately 878 seconds (14 minutes and 42 seconds) after launch at approximately 12:50 p.m. Data downloads are expected 30 seconds after H&S.
|Lead Instutution||School Name||Location|
|Wilbur Wright Community College||IL|
|Saint Elizabeth School||DC|
|Woodson High School||DC|
|Crozier Middle School / Inglewood Library||CA|
|Eastern Florida State College||FL|
|Cambridge Elementary School||FL|
|Eastern Shore CC||VA|
|Snow Hill Middle School||MD|
|George Mason University||VA|
|Thomas Jefferson High School||VA|
|George Washington University||DC|
|Oak Grove High School||DC|
|School Without Walls||DC|
|Northrop Grumman Schools|
|Bishop O'Connell High School||VA|
|Old Dominion University||VA|
|Norview High School||VA|
|Larchmont Elementary School||VA|
|Lindenwood Elementary School||VA|
|Princeton Day School||NJ|
|Princeton High School||NJ|
|Montgomery High School||NJ|
|Parkside High School||MD|
|Salisbury Middle School||MD|
|Worcester Prep School||MD|
|Bennet High School||MD|
|University of Virginia||VA|
|UVA - SEDS||VA|
|Charlottesville High School||VA|
|Western Albemarle High School||VA|
|The Village School||VA|
|United States Coast Guard Academy||CT|
|United States Naval Academy||MD|
|Virginia Military Institute||VA|
|Rockbridge County High School||VA|
|William and Mary||VA|
|Godwin High School||VA|
|Wise County Schools||VA|
|St Paul Elementary||VA|
|Bland County High School||VA|
|LF Addington Middle School||VA|
|Northwood Middle School||VA|
|Lee High School||VA|
|Ridgeview High School||VA|
|Castlewood High School||VA|
|Fairmont State University||WV|
|University of Minnesota||MN|
NG-15 Outreach School Satellite Custom Payloads:
Old Dominion University
- The goal of the ODU team is to extend the working lifetime of the payload by adding thermal insulation. This insulation will resist the heat generated by friction in the atmosphere.
- Lengthen ThinSat life during re-entry
- Develop platform for surface temperature sensor implementation
- Improve data collection and communication capabilities
- Provide support and education for partner Norfolk Public Schools
- The mission of MEMSat is to study the comparative on-orbit performance of 2 MEMS (microelectromechanical) IMUs (inertial measurement units).
- Comparison of two different microelectromechanical IMUs (MEMS) while in orbit
- MEMS are increasingly popular in aerospace applications
- One of the first on-flight comparisons of two different MEMS units
- The mission objective of ProtoSat is to test the space-worthiness of several circuit fabrication methods. The verification of these circuits will impact future student missions.
- Comparison of three distinct fabrication methods: Voltera, CNC-milled, and BiscuitBoard
- If successful, this approach to developing flight hardware will be highly applicable to students
- Cheap and effective methods to producing critical PCB components for student satellites
- PCB Board Types:
- Voltera: A 3D printed circuit board machine.
- CNC-milled: A low-cost method to milling PCBs on a CNC machine
- BiscuitBoard: A solderless PCB
- The mission of the GMU Asteria payload is to test a battery box with different types of thermal shielding and compare the relative effectiveness of two power handling architectures. Experimenting with using different power generation methods on a ThinSat.
- Used simulations to ensure that the machined parts could survive launch and deployment conditions.
- The efficiency under temperature change, isolation level, and satellite spin will all be evaluated.
- The payload will also compare two different power architectures, Direct Energy Transfer and Maximum Power Point Tracking.
- The VT ThickSat is a larger ThinSat experimental vehicle with an integrated carbon fiber boom arm that uses the ThinSat architecture. Students will deliver preliminary data to show the effectiveness of the onboard imagining system for the future ACS3 CubeSat mission.
- NASA organized mission to study boom actions in zero-gravity environment.
- Evaluate the on-orbit performance of the onboard imaging system.
- Using imaging system to measure the deployment of a high strain composite boom.
- Verify the imaging process works with a variety of backgrounds.
- The purpose of the Salisbury University mission is to take measurements of the magnetic field using an IMU (BNO55 9DoF) sensor as well as using an RGB light sensor to detect increases in red light.
- Find evidence of charged particles disturbing the Earth's magnetic field in the lower Thermosphere caused by Tropospheric weather.
- Collect information on Aurora STEVE (Strong Thermal Emissions Velocity Enhancement)
- Using data parsing to fill in any holes in collected data
- The purpose of the Taylor University mission is to measure and validate satellite tumble rate, teach students processing and sequence of software, and gain ELEO flight experience with a Parallax Propeller processor.
- Provided real-life software and engineering analysis and development opportunities
- Preparing students for work environments
- Experiment with new methods of detecting tumble rates in a ThinSat string
Each ThinSat mission spans the length of approximately one school year and incorporates three phases. During these phases, students are introduced to satellite sensors and the engineering iterative process.
Phase 1: Introduction of sensors and development of a sensor-board called the FlatSat. Students conduct flight operations and launch a low-altitude balloon with the FlatSat attached as a data transmitting payload. Students collect and analyze data.
Phase 2: Students develop a payload representative of the final product and integrate it with a 3D printed Engineering Model of the ThinSat, which will allow for realistic ThinSat testing and verification of data transmission. The engineering models are sent to a centralized location for a high-altitude balloon flight.
Phase 3: The Standard ThinSat has a predetermined sensor array, mirroring the sensors available in phase 1 and 2, built into the payload. Students who build custom ThinSats use Phase 2 data and finalize theirpayload design for orbit. This payload is then sent to Twiggs Space Lab for testing before being integrated into a Containerized Satellite Dispenser (CSD) by NearSpace Launch and prepared for launch. The ThinSats are deployed during a Northrop Grumman cargo resupply mission to the ISS. They are released from the second stage of the Antares rocket into Extreme Low Earth Orbit (ELEO) at 200-250km, transmitting data for approximately five days before de-orbit and burning up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
Anatomy of an Antares Launch