A CubeSat Just Photographed Another CubeSat. Here’s Why That’s a Big Deal.

Original article was published by The Aerospace Corporation on Artificial Intelligence on Medium


“Making this feat possible required ingenuity across the entire team of Aerospace engineers who contributed to the design, build, and operations of AeroCube-10,” Gangestad said. “The satellites feature a GPS receiver that can pinpoint the satellites’ location to within single-digit meters even while barreling through space at 17,000 miles per hour, a propulsion system that can impart changes in velocity as delicate as four thousandths of an inch per second, an attitude control system that can point the satellites within fractions of a degree, a ground network of communications antennas that provide regular connectivity to the satellites, and mission planning tools that can model and predict the satellites’ behavior hours and days into the future with extreme precision.”

Precise proximity operations are necessary for some of AeroCube-10’s science missions, which require spatial separation between the two CubeSats. AeroCube-10’s missions include advancing the maturity of nanosatellite-scale technologies and capabilities, studying the Earth’s atmosphere via the release of small probes, and studying the radiation environment of the Earth’s ionosphere.

Beyond its current tasks, however, AeroCube-10 demonstrates a cost-effective capability that could be used in potential future missions.

As Gangestad put it, “The miniaturized technologies and sophisticated processes used to accomplish this proximity operation can be applied to other spacecraft and missions, so that future projects — such as free-flying inspector satellites for the International Space Station — can be accomplished in a small form factor and lower cost.”