Small satellite initiative flies closer to the Sun.

USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory has reached a milestone in its NASA-funded, SunRISE project, by building and testing the first of 6 small satellites.

Tim Neilsen, program manager at SDL in Logan, Utah said once the other five satellites are built, all six will orbit the earth as a group collecting radio wave data from the Sun.

“The reason for putting six up, is if you can kind of put them up in a cluster, they can kind of do a little bit of like a stereo comparison, and they can kind of turn that into a two-dimensional image,” Neilsen said.

Forming images from multiple radio detectors, a process not unlike triangulation, is called radio interferometry. Nielsen said this technique would allow scientists to monitor the Sun’s electromagnetic field, and in particular, electromagnetic storms known as coronal mass injections. Little is known about how energy dissipates during these storms and how these radio waves effect the Earth’s atmosphere 90 million miles away.

“SunRISE is trying to understand how these coronal mass ejections are formed. Where does all the energy go? And ultimately, how does it affect us here on Earth? Coronal mass ejections have a long history of disrupting electronics, both satellites in our orbit, and really strong electromagnetic storms can actually disrupt power grids, here on the earth. And we don’t really have a good system for forecasting or warning us what’s about to happen, “said Neilsen.

This first prototype SunRISE satellite has successfully passed several tests, including an electromagnetic interference test to ensure that the sensitive radio receiver, attached to the satellite, does not pick up interference from other electronics operating inches from it. The satellite also passed a vibration test.

“We absolutely need to verify that we are going to survive that launch. So we’ll actually go in and simulate the vibration by putting the spacecraft on what’s called a shake table. So we’ll bolt it down to a table and this table will just pretty vigorously, you know, try and shake the thing to pieces. It can be unnerving. You’re sitting there watching, you know, the last two years of your life, and you’re watching the vibration table, basically try and destroy the thing, “Neilsen said.

Neilsen says this first satellite will now serve as ready-made design for the development of the next 5 satellites. The group is expected to be in orbit no earlier than July 2023.

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