Development of On-Demand Sample Return Capability–Small Payload Quick Return (TechEdSat-5) - 12.06.17

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Current spacecraft entering the atmosphere of Earth, Mars and other worlds control their entry, descent and landing using thrusters or other propulsion systems. The Development of On-Demand Sample Return Capability–Small Payload Quick Return (TechEdSat-5) investigation studies a new system called the Exo-Brake, which uses a spacecraft’s own atmospheric drag to change its velocity and adjust its approach. This investigation tests the controls, avionics and methods that may be used on future spacecraft using the Exo-Brake system, including small payloads returning to Earth or landing on Mars.
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 Papadopoulos, Ph.D., Hellenic Space Initiative, Santa Clara, 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
Earth Benefits, Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2016 - April 2017

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
TechEdSat-1, TechEdSat-3P, TechEdSat-4.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The Development of On-Demand Sample Return Capability–Small Payload Quick Return (TechEdSat-5) permits 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.
  • A Modulated Exo-Brake is attempted for the first time – attempting an increase in de-orbit accuracy and eventually ground targeting.
  • TechEdSat-5 further develops a unique satellite-to-satellite command/control system that greatly simplifies low rate communication/command/control to nano-satellites via email (this is a pioneering effort – it is expected that within a few years ALL NANOSATELLITE TEAMS USE THIS PROTOCOL).
  • TechEdSat-5 contains an inexpensive 1-3Mbs transmitter.
  • TechEdSat-5 and related work enable the routine return of samples from orbital platforms - including the International Space Station (ISS).

The proposed Small Payload Quick Return (SPQR) project provides the capability of returning small payloads in a temperature and pressure controlled environment - from the International Space Station (ISS). The current 3U cubesat experiment, the Development of On-Demand Sample Return Capability–Small Payload Quick Return (TechEdSat-5), is the next development step in the series. TechEdSat-5 is deployed from the NanoRacks Cube Sat Deployer (NRCSD). The principal objectives are to further develop the tension-based drag device (an 'Exo-Brake') and demonstrate frequent uplink/downlink control capability. In addition, the Exo-Brake is modulated in order to change the drag profile – and then permit, for the first time, a targeting experiment. The current experiment is sized at a scale of .3 m, which would permit re-entry within 4 weeks (at ~ 5 kg/m2). 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 eventually 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 precursors TechEdSat-1, TechEdSat-3P, TechEdSat-4, TechEdSat-5 is designed from the onset with important safety features, including two-fault tolerant critical safety attributes (in particular, use of redundant 'ALI' - Auxiliary Lateral Inhibit switches, which prevent early electrical/RF activation -as well as inhibits for any jettison anomalies). This is a joint effort with various universities, permitting extensive student engineering and development participation.

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Space Applications
The Small Payload Quick Return effort studies a series of small TechEdSat nanosatellites, which pave the way for new satellite re-entry systems. The Exo-Brake system enables faster and less expensive methods for returning cargo and scientific payloads from low Earth orbit. The technology designed for this investigation could also be used to land small spacecraft or instruments on Mars (the moon, asteroids and other planetary body nano-satellite missions benefit from the development of the redundant bus architecture and communication system – including the wireless sensor modules).

Earth Applications
The small satellite tested in this investigation provides new data on the structure of the atmosphere’s highest layer, the thermosphere. As the spacecraft de-orbits, instruments analyze the atmosphere surrounding it and monitor changes in the satellite’s position. In addition, the investigation enables a simpler method for returning samples from low-Earth orbit, which could benefit research in biology, materials science, atmospheric science and more.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
TechEdSat-5 is deployed from the NRCSD attached to the JEM Remote Manipulator System. TechEdSat-5 is part of a 48U NRCSD payload on the JEM Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform pallet. The nano-satellite has multiple deployment switches that are turned on only after the satellite is ejected from the NRCSD in order to prevent inadvertent satellite appendage deployment within the deployer.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites

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TechEdSat-5 unit during ground testing.  Image courtesy of NASA.

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