Small Satellite, Big Questions: CuPID CubeSat Will Get New Perspective on Sun-Earth Boundary

CSP’s Assistant Professor Brian Walsh‘s CuPID cubesat was highlighted by NASA:

When you help build a satellite the size of a shoebox, you learn pretty much everything about it, says Emil Atz, a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at Boston University. You learn how to write a proposal to fund it, how to place the screws that hold it together, how to test each instrument to ensure it functions properly.

And then you learn how to say goodbye.

“It’s a scary feeling, working on a piece of hardware full-time for four years, and then putting it into the rocket deployer to never see it again,” Atz said. “I didn’t want to close the door.”

This September, a rocket will launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, bringing with it Landsat 9, a joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The rocket will also carry four CubeSats – compact, box-shaped satellites used for space research projects.

Compared to standard satellites, CubeSats are inexpensive to launch. Just like when friends split a cab fare, tiny satellites can hitch a ride on rockets carrying several other missions, bringing down the cost for each.

One of the CubeSats launching with Landsat 9 is the Cusp Plasma Imaging Detector, or CuPID. No larger than a loaf of bread nor heavier than a watermelon, CuPID has a big job. From orbit about 340 miles (550 kilometers) above Earth’s surface, little CuPID will image the boundary where Earth’s magnetic field interacts with the Sun’s.

Atz is part of a team of collaborators from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Boston UniversityDrexel UniversityJohns Hopkins UniversityMerrimack CollegeAerospace Corporation, and University of Alaska, Fairbanks who made CuPID possible.

Emil Atz and Kenneth M Simms, engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, wiring elements of the CuPID spacecraft — short for Cusp Plasma Imaging Detector — in January 2020 at Goddard.
Credits: Brian Walsh
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Small Satellite, Big Questions: CuPID CubeSat Will Get New Perspective on Sun-Earth Boundary

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