UNITE CubeSat Project

The Undergraduate Nano Ionospheric Temperature Explorer CubeSat, or UNITE CubeSat, is a NASA funded small satellite project. The University of Southern Indiana has received a Undergraduate Student Instruments Project (USIP) grant from NASA to complete a small satellite focusing on NASA specific goals. UNITE consists of a blend of students studying electrical and mechanical engineering, physics, and computer science.

There are three main goals for the project. The main goal of the mission is to measure plasma in the lower ionosphere, a relatively unexplored region of space. Students shall create a thermal model for comparison with temperature sensor data collected during flight. The last goal is for students to model orbital decay to better understand spaceflight dynamics within the lower ionosphere.

UNITE follows a NASA systems engineering approach. Through this approach, the team regularly presents to NASA, its vendor Near Space Launch, faculty of USI, and guests. Each presentation focuses on phases of the project lifecycle including the most recent, the Critical Design Review. Following the review, student will begin integration and testing of components. Presently, the UNITE CubeSat team plans to finish and deliver the CubeSat to NASA by the end of December of 2017.

Operations

On the morning of January 31, 2019, the University of Southern Indiana’s first student-built spacecraft was shot out of the International Space Station 250 miles above the south Atlantic. Fifty-five minutes later it “phoned home,” and has been transmitting data ever since.

Plasma measurements will be taken a year from now when the altitude of the spacecraft’s orbit falls below 200 miles, but temperature data was taken right away, and some preliminary analysis has been done by the students.

“The internal temperatures of UNITE have been ranging between 50 degrees and – 2 degrees Fahrenheit,” explained Dr. Glen Kissel, Associate Professor of Engineering at USI, and faculty advisor for the UNITE project.

“On the outer surfaces UNITE is sensing temperature swings from about 120 degrees to as low as -75 degrees Fahrenheit,” Kissel continued.

The UNITE spacecraft circles the Earth every 93 minutes, and during a portion of that time the spacecraft is in the Earth’s shadow, but for just over half the orbit it experiences direct heat from the sun without any atmosphere to protect it.

A year ago, the USI students tested UNITE in a vacuum chamber at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, but they weren’t able to simulate the lower end of expected orbital temperatures in that chamber. In fact the thermal model wasn’t even predicting such cold temperatures. “We are pleased the spacecraft is holding up so well in the cold of space,” Dr. Kissel added.

On December 5, the UNITE spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of the cargo headed to the International Space Station.

Since its deployment at the end of January, UNITE has functioned as expected and is awaiting its primary mission in early 2020.

Team Members

Students Professors
Wyatt Helms: Senior

  • Team Lead
  • Hardware Lead
  • Engineering Major
Dr. Glen Kissel: Co-I

Engineering Professor

Ryan Loehrlein: Senior

  • Team Co-Lead
  • GPS Lead
  • Engineering Major
Zack Snyder: Senior

  • Flight/Ground Software Lead
  • Computer Science Major
Sujan Kaphle: Senior

  • Mechanical/Structures Lead
  • Engineering Major
 Nathan Kalsch: Sophomore

  • Temperature Sensor Array Lead
  • Engineering Major
John Siepierski: Graduated 

  • Former Team Lead
  • Former Thermal Control Lead
  • Engineering Major
Adam Will: Graduated

  • Former Team Lead
  • Former Command & Data Handling
  • Former Hardware Lead
  • Engineering Major
 
Kegan Miller: Graduated

  • Former Mechanical/Structures Lead
  • Former Thermal Control Lead
  • Engineering Major
Colin Runnion: Graduated

  • Former Command & Data Handling Software Lead
  • Engineering Major
 
Bryan Mitchell: Graduated

  • Former Electric Power Subsystem Lead
  • Engineering Major
 
 Jose Fregozo: Graduated

  • Former Attitude Determination Lead
  • Former Drag Lead
  • Engineering and Physics Major
 
Jonah Quirk: Graduated

  • Former Langmuir Plasma Probe Lead
  • Physics Major