Press Release

SRI International Launches CubeSat for Space Weather and Atmospheric Research

By SpaceRef Editor
November 22, 2010
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SRI International, an independent nonprofit research and development organization, announced today that its Radio Aurora Explorer (RAX) CubeSat was launched on a Minotaur-IV rocket as part of the Department of Defense Space Test Program S26 mission. The RAX project is part of a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to use CubeSats, which are small satellites (typically a 10-centimeter cube weighing about one kilogram), for science missions dedicated to space weather and atmospheric research. This launch marks the first NSF-funded CubeSat launch.

SRI, in collaboration with the University of Michigan, designed the RAX mission and spacecraft to investigate the causes of turbulence in the Earth’s ionosphere, a portion of the upper atmosphere that is ionized by solar radiation. A second RAX spacecraft has been planned for launch in September 2011 on a Delta-II rocket.

The project’s mission is to remotely explore small-scale ionization structures in the form of plasma turbulence that occurs in response to intense electrical currents in the space environment. The structures can adversely impact communication and navigation signals, such as global positioning systems (GPS), by distorting the signals as they propagate. RAX receives signals from powerful radar transmitters on the ground to probe these structures.

“Understanding ionospheric turbulence is critical for prediction of radio signal disruptions,” said Hasan Bahcivan, Ph.D., a research physicist in SRI’s Center for Geospace Studies, and principal investigator of the RAX mission. “This turbulence is created by strong electrical currents in the Earth’s upper atmosphere–ultimately driven by interaction with the solar wind. The findings of this research project will lead to better space weather prediction during active solar and geomagnetic conditions.”

The experiment will leverage existing megawatt-class scientific radars in Alaska, Arecibo (Puerto Rico), and Norway. The RAX CubeSat mission will engage a large number of international space physicists and graduate students in a series of coordinated field campaigns. CubeSats were developed to increase research and educational access to space. The satellites have proven to be an excellent platform for technology development and small science missions. Their short design timelines make them ideal for student involvement with design, fabrication, and flight missions.

About SRI International

Silicon Valley-based SRI International is one of the world’s leading independent research and technology development organizations. SRI, which was founded by Stanford University as Stanford Research Institute in 1946 and became independent in 1970, has been meeting the strategic needs of clients and partners for more than 60 years. Perhaps best known for its invention of the computer mouse and interactive computing, SRI has also been responsible for major advances in networking and communications, robotics, drug discovery and development, advanced materials, atmospheric research, education research, economic development, national security, and more. The nonprofit institute performs sponsored research and development for government agencies, businesses, and foundations. SRI also licenses its technologies, forms strategic alliances, and creates spin-off companies. In 2009, SRI’s consolidated revenues, including its wholly owned for-profit subsidiary, Sarnoff Corporation, were approximately $470 million. Sarnoff Corporation, a leader in vision, video, and semiconductor innovations, will be fully integrated into SRI effective January 1, 2011.

SpaceRef staff editor.