The Development of On-Demand Sample Return Capability (SPQR) (TechEdSat-3P) - 09.19.18

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

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

The following 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., NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States

Periklis E. Papadopoulos, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, United States

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

^ back to top

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.

^ back to top


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.

^ back to top


Operational Requirements and Protocols

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.

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. 

^ back to top

Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

^ back to top

Results/More Information

Information Pending

^ back to top

Results Publications

^ back to top

Ground Based Results Publications

^ back to top

ISS Patents

^ back to top

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.

^ back to top

Related Websites

^ back to top


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

+ View Larger Image

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.

+ View Larger Image

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

+ View Larger Image