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Small Spacecraft Community of Practice

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No More Lost in Space: Low-SWAP ID and Tracking Aids

Speaker: Barbara M. Braun, The Aerospace Corporation

Wednesday, February 10, 2021
10:00AM-11:00AM Pacific Standard Time

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Abstract: CubeSats have revolutionized the space industry. The very features that make them so attractive to so many developers – small size, quick development cycles, and ease of launch – can also make them hard to identify and track on orbit, however. After a large, “batch” launch of many CubeSats, it can sometimes take weeks to months to sort out which CubeSat is which – and some may never be uniquely identified at all.

Small satellites can improve their chances of being identified and tracked through good coordination with tracking agencies pre-launch, through community sharing of two line elements and other position data in clearly-defined, consistent formats, and through careful consideration of deployment direction and timing. Small satellites can also make good design choices to improve their chances of surviving launch and early orbit. However, despite improvements in design and coordination, many small satellites still go unidentified. This has led to the introduction of tracking aids – independent systems that help owners and trackers identify small satellites and CubeSats, in some cases even if the satellite itself is malfunctioning. This presentation reviews the current state of the art for small satellite tracking aids, and discusses how developers can avoid “CubeSat Confusion” and improve their chances of a successful, safe mission on orbit.

Bio: Barbara Manganis Braun received a Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT in 1995 and served in the Air Force on active duty and in the Reserves for a total of 21 years. She joined the Aerospace Corporation in 2000 and has supported multiple satellite missions for the Department of Defense Space Test Program, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, and NASA. She has extensive experience in flight dynamics, small satellites, mission operations, and policy.

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