The “White Stork” Makes a CubeSat Delivery – ISS receives four new micro-satellites


HTV-4 being docked with the ISS using Canadarm2 (courtesy: NASA)

Earlier this month on August 3, 2013 the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle-4 (HTV-4) was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. The HTV, nicknamed “Kounotori” (White Stork), is an unpiloted spacecraft used to resupply the International Space Station.

In addition to supplies and other research cargo, the recent HTV-4 mission included four new CubeSats:

  • Pico Dragon. This is a 1U CubeSat developed by the Vietnam National Satellite Center. Its mission is to acquire images of the Earth, collect space environment data, and test satellite communication systems.
  • Ardusat-1 and Ardusat-X. These are 1U CubeSats created by NanoSatisfi, with development partially funded through a crowdfunding campaign on KickStarter. The ArduSat satellites provide open-source Arduino platforms for users to control onboard instruments and perform their own space-based experiments.
  • TechEdSat-3. This is a 3U CubeSat collaboratively built by San Jose State University and the University of Idaho with guidance from NASA Ames Research Center. This satellite is being used to test exo-brake technology for passive de-orbiting of satellites and other payloads.

CubeSats offer a low-cost option for deploying and testing new space technologies and for encouraging research in space science. Given their small size – a 1U CubeSat is a 10cm cube – the satellites can be readily deployed as opportunistic payloads on larger missions. They can also be easily designed to burn up upon re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, thus not contributing to the growing problem of space junk.

Using a procedure first tested last year, the CubeSats delivered by HTV-4 are first uploaded inside the ISS and later released from the Japanese Experiment Module via an airlock and robotic arm using the Small Satellite Orbital Deployer. This allows the CubeSats to be deployed directly from the ISS instead of using traditional launch vehicles, i.e., rockets.

As the deployment of micro-satellites becomes more and more cost-efficient and versatile, it’s no wonder we’re seeing an increasing prevalence of CubeSats. So think small and dream big.

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