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Small Spacecraft Technology News Archive

NASA Awards Contracts for Flight, Payload Integration Services
March 4, 2024 – NASA has selected 15 companies to provide flight and payload integration services to advance technologies and procedures for operating in space, including testing in high-altitude, reduced gravity, or other relevant environments. Examples of payloads include NASA science instruments or technology demonstrations.

NASA Selects Universities to Support Small Spacecraft Technologies
December 8, 2023 – Eight U.S. university teams are partnering with NASA to advance technologies for small spacecraft, increasing their capability to support the agency’s science and exploration missions within the Earth, cislunar, and deep space domains. 

Follow NASA’s Starling Swarm in Real Time
October 23, 2023 – NASA’s Starling CubeSats are zipping through low Earth orbit in the agency’s latest test of robotic swarm technologies for space.  The four Starling spacecraft, launched in July 2023, are testing a group of small satellites ability to coordinate and cooperate independently without real-time updates from mission control.

NASA Seeks Development of Universal Payload Interface
October 16, 2023 – NASA is calling on innovators to help solve some of the challenges in rapidly testing technology payloads across a wide range of commercial flight vehicles and test environments. 

NASA Seeks Proposals for Space Technology Flight Test Services
July 20, 2023 – NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California is seeking proposals from industry in response to its Suborbital/Hosted Orbital Flight and Payload Integration Services 4 solicitation.

NASA’s Starling Mission Sending Swarm of Satellites into Orbit
July 11, 2023 – This July, NASA is sending a team of four six-unit (6U)-sized CubeSats into orbit around Earth to see if they’re able to cooperate on their own, without real-time updates from mission control.

NASA’s Starling Prepares to Launch Small Spacecraft Swarm to Orbit
July 5, 2023 – A quartet of six-unit (6U) CubeSats will show off their moves in a sort of orbital line dance when NASA’s Starling mission tests critical swarm technologies in space. The spacecraft are planned to launch no earlier than July 14 aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 facility in Mahia, New Zealand.

NASA Calls End to Lunar Flashlight After Some Tech Successes
May 12, 2023 – While the CubeSat couldn’t reach the lunar South Pole to help seek ice, it fulfilled several technology goals that will empower future missions for the benefit of humanity.

Satellite Swarms for Science ‘Grow up’ at NASA Ames
June 13, 2023 – Teamwork makes the dream work, and at NASA that doesn’t apply only to humans. Researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley are developing satellite swarms, which are groups of spacecraft working together as a unit, without being managed individually by mission controllers. A swarm’s ability to perform autonomously will make new types of science and exploration possible, particularly as they venture farther into deep space.

CAPSTONE Takes Moon Shot, Successfully Tests Navigation Technology
May 18, 2023 – CAPSTONE successfully tested a navigation technology akin to Earth’s GPS for the first time in May, advancing a capability that could help future space missions more efficiently navigate at the Moon. The spacecraft also captured its first images of the Moon, showing the lunar surface near the Moon’s North Pole as CAPSTONE made a close approach to the Moon on May 3.

SpaceTech-REDDI-2023 Appendix S1: University Smallsat Technology Partnerships Now Open
April 25, 2023 – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Headquarters has released a solicitation, entitled “University Smallsat Technology Partnerships (USTP),” as an appendix to the Space Technology Mission Directorate umbrella NASA Research Announcement (NRA) titled “Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Infusion 2023 (SpaceTech-REDDI-2023).”

NASA Seeks Comment on Space Technology Commercial Flight Solicitation
February 9, 2023 – NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center invites review and comment on the draft of its Suborbital/Hosted Orbital Flight and Payload Integration Services 4 solicitation. The new solicitation will replace contracts for existing services and seeks to add new capabilities – including hosting payloads in orbit and flying NASA researchers on suborbital flights – which will expand opportunities for a wider range of commercial companies to participate.

NASA Selects Nine Technologies for Commercial Flight Tests
January 27, 2023 – NASA has selected nine space technologies for flight testing to advance innovations that address mission needs for both the agency and the commercial space industry.

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight Has Launched – Follow the Mission in Real Time
December 11, 2022 – NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System web-based visualization tool lets you “see” the SmallSat as it journeys to the Moon and seeks out water ice in the darkest craters there.
NASA’s Lunar Flashlight has communicated with mission controllers and confirmed it is healthy after launching Sunday, Dec. 11, at 2:38 a.m. EST (Saturday, Dec. 10, at 11:38 p.m. PST) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. About 53 minutes after launch, the small satellite, or SmallSat, was released from its dispenser to begin a four-month journey to the Moon to seek out surface water ice in permanently shadowed craters at the lunar South Pole.

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight SmallSat Readies for Launch
November 28, 2022 – When NASA’s Lunar Flashlight launches no earlier than Nov. 30, the tiny satellite will begin a three-month journey, with mission navigators guiding the spacecraft far past the Moon. It will then be slowly pulled back by gravity from Earth and the Sun before settling into a wide science-gathering orbit to hunt for surface water ice inside dark regions on the Moon that haven’t seen sunlight in billions of years.

CAPSTONE Will Soon Meet the Crux of Its Deep Space Route to the Moon
November 9, 2022 – On Nov. 13, CAPSTONE will reach the Moon and become the first spacecraft to enter into a unique, elongated orbit that will support NASA’s Artemis missions. This microwave oven-sized satellite, weighing just 55 pounds, will be the first CubeSat to fly to and operate at the Moon. The CubeSat serves as a pathfinder for Gateway, a Moon-orbiting space station that is part of NASA’s Artemis program. CAPSTONE’s mission will help reduce risk for future spacecraft, including Orion, by validating innovative navigation technologies and verifying the dynamics of a type of orbit that has never been flown before.

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight Ready to Search for the Moon’s Water Ice
October 28, 2022 – Set for a November launch, the small satellite mission will use lasers to search for water ice inside the darkest craters at the Moon’s South Pole.
The Moon’s poles offer a tantalizing opportunity for human explorers: There may be reservoirs of water ice there that could be purified as drinking water, converted into breathable oxygen, and used as fuel by astronauts. These reservoirs are inside permanently shadowed craters – regions where the Sun never rises above crater rims.

NASA RFI – Explore & Land Thrusts
October 10, 2022 – NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) has released a Request for Information (RFI) intended to obtain information and feedback from commercial industry, other government agencies, and academia on NASA’s Strategic Technology Plan. STMD utilizes the Strategic Framework to organize its technology investments to address desired outcomes. The Framework currently includes four “thrusts” – GO, LAND, LIVE, and EXPLORE – along with corresponding outcomes and capabilities. This RFI specifically addresses the EXPLORE and LAND thrusts.

CAPSTONE Team Stops Spacecraft Spin, Clearing Hurdle to Recovery
October 7, 2022 –  CAPSTONE team members successfully executed an operation to stop the spacecraft’s spin on Friday, Oct. 7, clearing a major hurdle in returning the spacecraft to normal operations.
Following a planned trajectory correction maneuver on Sept. 8, CAPSTONE suffered an issue that caused the spacecraft to spin beyond the capacity of the onboard reaction wheels to control and counter. Data from the spacecraft suggests the most likely cause was a valve-related issue in one of the spacecraft’s eight thrusters.

CAPSTONE has won Small Satellite Mission of the Year!
August 11, 2022 – Congratulations to our partners @AdvancedSpace, @RocketLab, and @TerranOrbital on this historic mission that is demonstrating new small satellite capabilities and informing our future lunar exploration!

Follow CAPSTONE’s Four-Month Journey to the Moon in Real Time
July 8, 2022 – NASA’s microwave oven-sized CubeSat dubbed CAPSTONE is flying solo, blazing an unusual yet efficient deep space route to the Moon. The CubeSat is heading toward an unique orbit intended in the future for Gateway, a lunar space station built by the agency and its commercial and international partners that will support science and human exploration under Artemis.

CAPSTONE Launches to Test New Orbit for NASA’s Artemis Moon Missions
June 28, 2022 – NASA’s CubeSat designed to test a unique lunar orbit is safely in space and on the first leg of its journey to the Moon. The spacecraft is heading toward an orbit intended in the future for Gateway, a lunar space station built by the agency and its commercial and international partners that will support NASA’s Artemis program, including astronaut missions.

NASA Sets Live Launch Coverage for CAPSTONE Mission to Moon
June 23, 2022 – NASA will air live launch coverage of the agency’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE), the first spacecraft to fly a specific unique lunar orbit ahead of future missions with crew. 

The Small Businesses Behind CAPSTONE Are Paving Our Path to the Moon
June 8, 2022 – The upcoming Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will be the first spacecraft to fly a unique orbit around the Moon that will be used for Gateway, NASA’s future Moon-orbiting outpost. Gateway is an international collaboration working with commercial partners to establish a long-term human presence in deep space.

CubeSat Set to Demonstrate NASA’s Fastest Laser Link from Space
May 24, 2022 – NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 (PTD-3) mission, carrying the TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) system, will debut on May 25 as part of SpaceX’s Transporter-5 rideshare launch. TBIRD will showcase the high-data-rate capabilities of laser communications from a CubeSat in low-Earth orbit. At 200 gigabits per second (Gbps), TBIRD will downlink data at the highest optical rate ever achieved by NASA.

CAPSTONE Charts a New Path for NASA’s Moon-Orbiting Space Station
May 3, 2022 – It will have equilibrium. Poise. Balance. This pathfinding CubeSat will practically be able to kick back and rest in a gravitational sweet spot in space – where the pull of gravity from Earth and the Moon interact to allow for a nearly-stable orbit – allowing physics to do most of the work of keeping it in orbit around the Moon.

NASA Seeks Space and Earth Science Technologies for Flight Testing
May 2, 2022 – NASA’s 2022 TechFlights solicitation is now open! TechFlights offers funding opportunities to researchers from U.S.-based industry, academia, and private research institutions to rapidly test technologies on commercial suborbital vehicles or payloads hosted on commercial orbital platforms with awards up to $750,000 per awardee.  

NASA’s CAPSTONE Prepares to Enter Unique Orbit
April 6, 2022 – The pathfinder for NASA’s lunar outpost will launch in May to test an orbit around the Moon that has never been flown before. The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is undergoing final construction – and with solar panel installation and vibration testing now complete, the small satellite will soon be shipped to its launch location in New Zealand.

CLICK Team Tests Optical Communications Technology Ahead of Small Spacecraft Swarm Demonstration
December 15, 2021 – Teams from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville are currently testing components of NASA’s CubeSat Laser Infrared CrosslinK (CLICK) B/C demonstration, aiming to validate that the technology can be packaged into a CubeSat and work as expected. CLICK B/C is the second of two sequential missions designed to advance optical communications capabilities for autonomous fleets of CubeSats.

CAPSTONE Team Keeps CubeSat on Track During Simulated Flight
September 23, 2021 – Practice makes perfect. As a Moon-bound CubeSat prepares for launch, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) team at Advanced Space’s operations center in Westminster, Colorado, conducted a series of mission simulations. The simulations virtually put the CubeSat through its orbital dynamics paces. 

CAPSTONE’s CubeSat Prepares for Lunar Flight
August 6, 2021 – Small spacecraft will play a big role in lunar exploration, including a Moon-bound CubeSat launching later this year.
The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, mission team is making the final preparations for the spacecraft that will make CubeSat history over a series of technological and operational firsts for the small platform. 

What is NASA’s Payload Accelerator for CubeSat Endeavors Initiative?
June 29, 2021 – New small spacecraft technologies could transform future deep space mission capabilities and bring down mission costs. NASA’s Payload Accelerator for CubeSat Endeavors, or PACE, initiative is finding ways to speed up the process of getting small spacecraft technologies ready for prime time.

Advanced Composite Solar Sail System: Using Sunlight to Power Deep Space Exploration
June 23, 2021 – NASA is developing new deployable structures and materials technologies for solar sail propulsion systems destined for future low-cost deep space missions. Just as a sailboat is powered by wind in a sail, solar sails employ the pressure of sunlight for propulsion, eliminating the need for conventional rocket propellant.

Innovative Propulsion System Gets Ready to Help Study Moon Orbit for Artemis
March 22, 2021 – In 2021, NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE, CubeSat will launch to a never-before-used cislunar orbit near the Moon.

Picking up the PACE: Accelerating Development of Deep Space Technologies
March 17, 2021 – Payload Accelerator for CubeSat Endeavors initiative, or PACE, is designed to aggressively shorten conventional technology testing timelines. The effort links two NASA programs – Flight Opportunities and Small Spacecraft Technology – efficiently connecting payloads to both suborbital and orbital flight tests that increase the likelihood of a technology being selected for a space exploration mission. PACE also works with other NASA programs like the CubeSat Launch Initiative.

NASA CubeSat to Demonstrate Water-Fueled Moves in Space
January 19, 2021 – A NASA CubeSat will launch into low-Earth orbit to demonstrate a new type of propulsion system. Carrying a pint of liquid water as fuel, the system will split the water into hydrogen and oxygen in space and burn them in a tiny rocket engine for thrust.

What is V-R3x?
January 21, 2021 – Learning how to communicate and navigate multiple spacecraft autonomously in space is a technology challenge that will become even more important to solve as NASA continues to operate in low-Earth orbit and beyond. The V-R3x mission uses a swarm of three small satellites to demonstrate new technologies and techniques for radio networking and navigation.

NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Plan – Request for Information (RFI)
October 2, 2020 – NASA/Ames Research Center (ARC) on behalf of the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) Small Spacecraft Technology (SST) Program is hereby soliciting information from potential sources for inputs on the desired future states / mini design reference capabilities (called “Outcomes”) and the associated “Technology Gaps” that need to be closed to achieve those “Outcomes” that are listed in NASA STMD’s Small Spacecraft Technology Plan.

July 31, 2020 – A microwave oven–sized CubeSat weighing just 55 pounds will serve as the first spacecraft to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit as part of NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE).

NASA CubeSat Will Shine a Laser Light on the Moon’s Darkest Craters
April 27, 2020 – As astronauts explore the Moon during the Artemis program, they may need to make use of the resources that already exist on the lunar surface. Take water, for instance: Because it’s a heavy and therefore expensive resource to launch from Earth, our future explorers might have to seek out ice to mine. Once excavated, it can be melted and purified for drinking and used for rocket fuel. But how much water is there on the Moon, and where might we find it?

NASA Selects Universities for Collaborative Development of Small Spacecraft Technologies
March 11, 2020 – Nine university teams will collaborate with NASA to advance small spacecraft technologies that will help pave the way for human and robotic lunar exploration. Under NASA’s Artemis program the agency plans to return humans to the Moon by 2024; small spacecraft, or “SmallSats,” will help blaze the trail.

NASA Awards Contract to Launch CubeSat to Moon from Virginia
February 14, 2020 – NASA has selected Rocket Lab of Huntington Beach, California, to provide launch services for the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) CubeSat.

NASA Announces New Tipping Point Partnerships for Moon and Mars Technologies
September 27, 2019 – NASA has selected 14 American companies as partners whose technologies will help enable the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

NASA Funds CubeSat Pathfinder Mission to Unique Lunar Orbit
September 13, 2019 – NASA has awarded a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, to develop and operate a CubeSat mission to the same lunar orbit targeted for Gateway – an orbiting outpost astronauts will visit before descending to the surface of the Moon in a landing system as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

CubeSats Dance: One Water-Powered NASA Spacecraft Commands Another in Orbit
August 2, 2019 – On June 21, 2019, NASA demonstrated the first coordinated maneuver between two CubeSats in low-Earth orbit as part of NASA’s Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration mission.

NASA Demos CubeSat Laser Communications Capability
April 9, 2019 – Two NASA CubeSats teamed up on an impromptu optical, or laser, communications pointing experiment. The laser beam is seen as a brief flash of light close to the center of the focal plane, to the left of Earth’s horizon.

NASA Announces Tenth Round of Candidates for CubeSat Space Missions
March 14, 2019 – An inflatable space antenna and a solar sail material test are among 16 small research satellites from 10 states NASA has selected to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard space missions planned to launch in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

NASA Reliability Initiative Works to Improve Small Satellite Mission Confidence
October 30, 2018 – A new public-private initiative is working to improve Small Satellite (SmallSat) mission confidence. Historically, using CubeSats or SmallSats for certain types of missions have largely been viewed as unviable due to the mission success rate associated with these missions.

NASA Seeks Partnerships with U.S. Companies to Advance Exploration Space Tech
October 2, 2018 – NASA partnerships are crucial for expanding capabilities and opportunities in space. The agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is seeking new partnerships with U.S. companies through an Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity (ACO) solicitation.

NASA’s Laser Communications Small Satellite Mission Demonstrates Technology First
August 2, 2018 – For the first time, a free-flying CubeSat has successfully completed space-to-ground optical communications. The Optical Communication and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) mission, designed and built by The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, sent a laser signal from low-Earth orbit to a ground station at the company’s facilities.

Tiny Cameras Snap Pictures of Great Lake
July 3, 2018 – These two images of Lake Superior and surrounding area show the first data downlinked from the CubeSat Multispectral Observation System (CUMULOS) cameras. The image on the left, taken by a short-wavelength infrared (SWIR) camera, captures a larger area of the lake and shows strong contrast between land and water features.