Team CHICO receives the Design Excellence Award at ECE Day '11. Pictured from left are Associate Professor of the Practice, Alan Pisano; Preston Miller; Francisco Suarez; Joshua Mendez; and Professor David Castañón, Ad Interim Department Chair. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky.

Millions of dollars in space hardware are lost each year as a result of unexpected conditions in the highest portions of the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere. Often times, activities on the solar surface such as coronal mass ejections can result in the destruction of orbiting spacecraft.

To combat this problem, Joshua Mendez, Preston Miller, and Francisco Suarez, designed a compact half-unit imaging electron spectrometer for CubeSat operations – known as CHICO for short – for their senior design project.

Team CHICO aimed to provide a cost-effective, miniaturized Imaging Electron Spectrometer (IES) to combat spaceweather. Impressed by their efforts, the judges at ECE Day ’11 awarded them the Design Excellence Award.

Designed around the Readout Electronics for Nuclear Applications (RENA3) chip and a Zilinx FPGA, the team’s instrument measures particle flux as its host satellite or other satellites pass by.

“Our device will pick up collisions and know how and where the satellite is moving,” said Miller.

Despite its relatively small size – CHICO occupies a volume no larger than 500 cm3 – it is expected to possess impressive energy and angular resolution for energetic electrons.

Throughout their research, the seniors worked closely with their customer, Professor Theodore Fritz (CAS). Collaborating with a client on the project gave the students a chance to gain real-world experience and work with someone outside of Boston University’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE).

“Ultimately, our final product was the result of a collaboration between ECE, mechanical engineering, and physics,” said Mendez.

View video of Team CHICO’s ECE Day presentation.