2015.A.4.1. CubeSat-based research for planetary missions at UNSW Canberra


Russell Boyce (1)
Sean Tuttle (1)
Melrose Brown (1)
Doug Griffin (1)

  1. UNSW Canberra, Australia




planetary atmosphere, instrumentation, orbit prediction, astrodynamics, formation flying, ground tests


UNSW Canberra is investing $10M over the next 5 years to develop a sustainable university-led program to develop and fly affordable in-orbit missions for space research. In the coming 6 years, we will fly a minimum of four cubesat missions, some in partnership with Defence Science and Technology Organisation, which will include flight experiments for validating Space Situational Awareness astrodynamics simulation and observation capabilities. Also included in the missions is the demonstration of new laser-based and other space instrumentation approaches being developed within the group, and the development of cubesat formation and swarm GNC methodologies.

The flights are underpinned by ground-based experimental research employing space test chambers, advanced diagnostics, and supercomputer simulations that couple DSMC and Particle-in-Cell methods for modelling space object interactions with the ionosphere. This research couples together the physics of rarefied space object aerodynamics and the space physics and space weather that affects it, towards the prediction of the orbits of near-Earth space objects with order(s) of magnitude greater fidelity than currently possible.

Building on this capability and on the experience of our team, which includes a combined 45+ years of experience on international planetary, orbital and sub-orbital missions, ongoing space science missions are planned, and the application of cubesats for planetary missions is under consideration. This includes the use of our thermal vacuum chambers for exploring the behaviour of cubesats in the atmospheres of other planets; the application of our diagnostic techniques, including space-based instrumentation developments, for measurements in such atmospheres; and the application of our astrodynamics and orbit propagation capabilities for studying the motion of objects in those atmospheres.

This paper will describe the research both underway and planned, with particular emphasis on the coupled numerical/experimental/flight approach.


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