Until the idea of miniature spacecraft came along, retrieving rock and soil samples from space was a complicated process. These small satellites, known as CubeSat satellites, allow for the transportation of samples from space to Earth for study. These devices are now on a clear flight path to explore distant areas of space. Hexagon | NovAtel® contributes OEM multi-frequency Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers into the space-constrained CubeSat to provide accurate positioning data.
Controlled Positioning For Descent
NASA Ames Research Center investigators and advanced university students involved in the Technology Educational Satellite Series (TechEdSat) program are developing and launching a series of CubeSat satellites to test technologies supporting re-entry, descent, and landing capabilities. Their goal: to build and test a low-cost propulsion-free re-entry system called the Exo-Brake.
The Exo-Brake is a square-shaped sail resembling a parachute. It’s designed to generate drag on the CubeSat satellite so it drops altitude without needing propellant. To know when the Exo-Brake must engage, the CubeSat relies on radio frequency links to navigate from space to the specified location on Earth, all while keeping its payload intact. This is where NovAtel receivers came into play.
The first CubeSat satellite that featured the Exo-Brake used the OEM615™ multi-frequency receiver from NovAtel for accurate positioning data. The latest CubeSat satellite launched from the International Space Station in January 2019 used a NovAtel OEM617™ receiver. Our receiver products were ideal for providing accurate and assured positioning for the small, compact satellites. The CubeSat team continued to rely on our receivers, from their first model to their latest.
From Retrieval to Exploration
NASA expects the TechEdSat program will provide the building blocks for larger-scale systems. These systems could enable future nanosatellite missions to Mars or other planetary bodies in our solar system. The push for scientific space exploration will encourage the TechEdSat team’s ability to develop and operate low-cost space missions. Their need for small, compact receivers like the NovAtel OEM6 series will continue to demonstrate our ability to deliver assured positioning.