NanoRacks-CADRE (NanoRacks-CADRE) - 01.18.18

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Energy from the sun constantly bombards Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing it to expand and contract. The same solar storms that cause the northern and southern lights can warm up the atmosphere and cause it to expand farther into space, which affects satellite orbits. The NanoRacks-CADRE investigation, primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, with support from NASA and the Department of Defense, uses a small satellite launched from the International Space Station to study the upper atmosphere’s density, improving computer simulations that are used to prevent satellite collisions.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Aaron Ridley, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Aaron Ridley, Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States

James Cutler, Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States
Andrew Nicholas, Ph.D., Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC, United States

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2015 - March 2016; March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • When the aurora intensifies significantly, the density at satellite altitudes can change dramatically, causing orbits to change.
  • The upper atmosphere is not understood enough to specify or predict the reaction of the atmosphere to these large events.
  • NanoRacks-CADRE measures the density, winds and temperatures of the thermosphere in response to this energy input.
  • NanoRacks-CADRE data validates models, and explores how the density and temperature of the atmosphere respond to the energy input.


The thermosphere is a region of space between about 100 and 600 km altitude. This is the region of the atmosphere that absorbs solar extreme ultraviolet (EUV) and X-rays, which causes the temperature to increase to approximately 1000 K. The vast majority of time, the solar irradiance (light) is the major energy input into the thermosphere, and so it is relatively well behaved.
Another major source of energy into the thermosphere is in the aurora zone, and comes in the form of auroral precipitation (electrons and ions from the magnetosphere crashing into the thermosphere) and frictional heating between the neutral gas and the ions, which are strongly controlled by magnetospheric and interplanetary electric fields. Since the ions move significantly faster than the neutrals, they are constantly flowing through them, which causes frictional heating. Normally, this heating is a small fraction of the total energy input into the thermosphere (with the irradiance being the majority), but at times, the geomagnetic activity can increase dramatically, and both the energy input from the aurora and the simultaneous frictional heating can become significantly larger than the EUV heating. This creates many different effects, such as heating of the thermosphere, density increases in the thermosphere, changes in composition, changes in wind patterns, changes in the ionosphere, and all sorts of other phenomena.
One of the problems with understanding this system is the neutral winds in the thermosphere have not been measured by a satellite (such as NanoRacks-CADRE), in over 30 years. Understanding the response of the system is severely limited by the lack of measurements of the winds. How the winds are affected by the energy input, nor how the composition changes as the energy input increases are understood.
NanoRacks-CADRE measures the composition, winds and temperature during time-periods of enhanced energy. It allows for better understanding of how these quantities change during storms, and explores the controlling processes behind the changes in the winds, the temperature and the composition.

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Space Applications
Satellites in the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, called the thermosphere, are affected by drag, which can change their orbits and cause them to collide with other satellites or fall back to Earth. The thermosphere’s density continually changes in response to energy from the sun, meaning that satellite orbits can be affected at some times and not others. This investigation measures the upper atmosphere’s density to improve understanding of how it responds to solar energy.

Earth Applications
Space is becoming increasingly crowded, raising the risk of possible satellite collisions around Earth. Understanding how the Earth’s upper atmosphere affects satellite orbits improves efforts to avoid satellite collisions, including by adjusting satellite orbits. Safeguarding satellites benefits communications, navigation, scientific study and many other uses for people on Earth.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols


NanoRacks CubeSats are delivered to the ISS already integrated within a NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD). A crew member transfers each NRCSD from the launch vehicle to the JEM. Visual inspection for damage to each NRCSD is performed. When CubeSat deployment operations begin, the NRCSDs are unpacked, mounted on the JAXA Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform (MPEP) and placed on the JEM airlock slide table for transfer outside the ISS. A crew member operates the JEM Remote Manipulating System (JRMS) – to grapple and position for deployment. CubeSats are deployed when JAXA ground controllers command a specific NRCSD.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
Michigan Exploration Laboratory Facebook

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NanoRacks-CADRE in stowed configuration. Image courtesy of University of Michigan.

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NanoRacks-CADRE in deployed configuration. Image courtesy of University of Michigan.

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NanoRacks-CADRE vibration testing at the University of Michigan Space Physics Research Laboratory. Image courtesy of University of Michigan.

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University of Michigan students working on NanoRacks-CADRE. Image courtesy of University of Michigan.

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