The Development of On-Demand Sample Return Capability (SPQR) (TechEdSat-3P) - 07.29.14

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery
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Science Objectives for Everyone
The Development of On-Demand Sample Return Capability - Small Payload Quick Return (TechEdSat-3P) employs a unique drag system, called the Exo-Brake, to de-orbiting a small spacecraft payload. The device enables a spacecraft to use atmospheric drag, rather than a rocket thrusters, to reduce speed for re-entering the atmosphere. Successfully using this process enables larger crafts to save weight and safely return larger payloads to Earth quickly.

Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

This content was provided by Marcus S. Murbach, M.S., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.

Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)

  • Marcus S. Murbach, M.S., Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States

  • Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
  • Periklis E. Papadopoulos, Dr, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, United States

  • Developer(s)
    NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States

    San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, United States

    University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, United States

    Sponsoring Space Agency
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

    Sponsoring Organization
    Technology Demonstration Office (TDO)

    Research Benefits
    Information Pending

    ISS Expedition Duration
    March 2013 - March 2014

    Expeditions Assigned

    Previous ISS Missions
    TechEdSat launched/jettisoned from the ISS on October 4, 2012.

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    Experiment Description

    Research Overview

    • The Development of On-Demand Sample Return Capability (SPQR) (TechEdSat-3P) studies unique research in free molecular flow drag devices – or ‘ping-pong’ flow since the air molecules are at such low density – just random particles hitting the front surface of the device in the Earth’s Thermosphere.

    • TechEdSat-3P develops and tests a small scale Exo-Brake and related avionics/navigation system.

    • TechEdSat-3P enables the routine return of samples from orbital platforms - including the International Space Station (ISS).


    The proposed Small Payload Quick Return SPQR (SPQR) effort intends to result in a means of returning small payloads in a temperature and pressure controlled environment back from the International Space Station (ISS).  The current 3U cubesat experiment, the TechEdSat-3P 3U cubesat, is the next incremental development step.  TechEdSat-3P jettisons from the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) in the same fashion as the successful TechEdSat that was jettisoned in the previous year.  The principal objective is to test for the first time, a means of de-orbiting payloads using a tension-based drag device (an 'Exo-Brake').  The current experiment is sized at a scale of 1 m, which would permit re-entry within 7 days.  Understanding the thermophysics of such a device would eventually permit it to be scaled for larger payloads and re-entry within 1.5 days.  Secondary objectives include the further development of the avionics suite.  This includes redundant GPS - Iridium modules which periodically update positional/altitude information which assist in the eventual guidance/targeting of the larger SPQR units.  As with the precursor TechEdSat effort, TechEdSat-3P is designed from the onset with important safety features, including  two-fault tolerant critical safety features  (in particular, use of redundant 'ALI'  - Auxiliary Lateral Inhibit switche  , which prevent early electrical activation -as well as inhibits pertaining to a jettison anomaly  are included).  In addition, this is a joint effort with the San Jose State University (California State University system) and the University of Idaho, permitting heavy student participation.

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    Space Applications

    The larger SPQR effort (of which the TechEdSat series represent incremental steps) in general leads to low-cost and quick turnaround de-orbit and re-entry systems.  These systems enhance the capability for sample return from Low Earth orbit (LEO).  In addition, one of the proposed re-entry technologies required in the next test phase enables small-scale Mars surface missions based on the cubesat technologies being developed.

    Earth Applications

    The investigation helps provide more detailed information on the atmospheric structure of the thermosphere – by comparing and helping to refine models based on the de-orbit experiment data.  In addition, the ability to return samples quicky without waiting for a space transport vehicle permits on-orbit investigations to be concluded more efficiently –helping investigations to retrieve experimental samples and data faster for analysis and publication of results.

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    Operational Requirements

    TechEdSat-3P is deployed from the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) attached to the JEM Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS). The Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) is required for viewing support during deployment from the ISS.

    Operational Protocols

    TechEdSat-3P requires ISS Crew to remove the Remove Before Flight (RBF) pin inside the JEM before the J-SSOD is transferred out through the JEM Airlock. The deployment switches then turn on after the satellite is ejected from the J-SSOD in order to prevent inadvertent satellite appendage deployment within the J-SSOD. The JEMRMS is used to retrieve the J-SSOD from the JEM airlock and moves it to the appropriate and safe deployment orientation. 

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    Results/More Information
    Information Pending

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    Results Publications

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    Ground Based Results Publications

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    ISS Patents

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    Related Publications

      Murbach MS, Boronowsky KM, Benton JE, White B, Fritzler E.  Options for returning payloads from the ISS after the termination of STS flights. 40th International Conference on Environmental Systems, Barcelona, Spain ; 2010 July 11 12 pp.

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    Related Websites

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    Rendering of TechEdSat-3p post-jettison from the International Space Station.  Image courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center.

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    The San Jose State University Team alongside The Development of On-Demand Sample Return Capability (SPQR) (TechEdSat-3P). Image courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center.

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    TechEdSat-3p was jettisoned from the International Space Station on November 19th, 2013.  (NASA Image)

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