Measuring Atmospheric Gas Using Small Satellites

Vincent Riot | 17-ERD-059

Project Overview

Our research focused on demonstrating that a small satellite (less than 10 kg) can provide usable data to support stratospheric circulation and broader atmospheric measurements, which were generally thought possible only from large, lengthy, high-cost space programs. The research goals were to enable CubeSats (miniature satellites) to serve as science platforms with a low-cost communication infrastructure, science-enabling solar panels, and a ruggedized, small-form-factor science instrument. The instruments were successfully designed and developed, and their performance was demonstrated through on-orbit results. However, the collection of science data on-orbit was not possible because a high tumbling rate impacted the spacecraft at time-of-release on-orbit, which prevented reliable solar charging and led to a premature end of the mission. Project findings, including the successful demonstration of science instruments on-orbit, will act as a springboard for further research and space projects at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Several external research groups have expressed interest in the successful areas of this research, such as the solar panels, Iridium system crosslink, and the Laboratory-developed CubeSat platform.

Mission Impact

This spacecraft was the first spacecraft entirely designed, built, and operated by the Department of Energy (DOE) in more than a decade. While small in both size and cost, it is laying the foundation for further DOE small satellite missions by building expertise at Livermore on end-to-end, space-based research missions. In addition, this effort had impacts beyond the Laboratory by building expertise within DOE as it relates to securing administrative approval for radio transmission with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is highly critical to the success of future DOE-led space endeavors. The on-orbit data gathered will serve the small satellite community and provide technical maturation for using the Iridium satellite system. This effort supports the Laboratory's space security initiative, and it strengthens the overall relationship between Livermore and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), serving as a key step for future collaborations.

Publications, Presentations, and Patents

Linehan, D., 2019. "Space Program Innovation, One Small Satellite at a Time." Science and Technology Review. April 2019 issue. UCRL-TR-52000-19-4

Riot, V. 2017. CubeSat Next Generation Bus Specifications. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Technical Report. LLNL-TR-740278 

Wilson, E. L., et al. 2017. "A 4 U laser heterodyne radiometer for methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) measurements from an occultation-viewing CubeSat." Measurement Science and Technology, 28, 3. doi:10.1088/1361-6501/aa5440. LLNL-JRNL-739046

Wilson, E. L., and V. Riot. 2019. "Energy in Space: DOE & NASA GSFC PI MiniCarb." The Global Commercial Space Conference and Exposition (SpaceCom), Houston, TX, November 2019. LLNL-PRES-797261