Tuesday, May 21

NASA — Tiny BurstCube’s Tremendous Travelogue

This image shows a small spacecraft on a table enclosed on all sides except the one facing the camera. The sides of the enclosure are clear while the top has two dark gray panels with a light gray frame. The backside is also gray and reflects a strip of light from the room. The spacecraft’s body is a vertical golden rectangle. Shiny black solar panels extend to either side and are much wider than the spacecraft itself. There are a few wires connected to the table, which are visible underneath it. It’s watermarked, “Credit: NASA/Sophia Roberts.”ALT

Meet BurstCube! This shoebox-sized satellite is designed to study the most powerful explosions in the cosmos, called gamma-ray bursts. It detects gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light.

BurstCube may be small, but it had a huge journey to get to space.

Julie Cox, a mechanical engineer at Goddard, presses aluminized tape to the BurstCube instrument in a laboratory. Julie is wearing a mask, blue lab coat, and gloves, and is holding silver tweezers in one hand. The instrument, which is sitting on a table covered in hardware and tools, has raised silver-colored metal cylinders on top of a flat plate with triangular and rectangular cutouts. A roll of tape sits on the table in the foreground. The image is watermarked with “Credit: NASA/Sophia Roberts.”ALT

First, BurstCube was designed and built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Here you can see Julie Cox, an early career engineer, working on BurstCube’s gamma-ray detecting instrument in the Small Satellite Lab at Goddard.

BurstCube is a type of spacecraft called a CubeSat. These tiny missions give early career engineers and scientists the chance to learn about mission development — as well as do cool science!

This image shows a woman wearing a long-sleeved blue jacket and blue gloves. Her hair is bound up in a clip. She leans over a table, filling out a form. To the right, on the same table, is a shiny box within another clear box — the BurstCube satellite in its protective case. The dim room behind the woman is full of gray beams that cast shadows against the walls. There is an old white barn door in the far wall. The image is watermarked, “Credit: NASA/Sophia Roberts.”ALT

Then, after assembling the spacecraft, the BurstCube team took it on the road to conduct a bunch of tests to determine how it will operate in space. Here you can see another early career engineer, Kate Gasaway, working on BurstCube at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

She and other members of the team used a special facility there to map BurstCube’s magnetic field. This will help them know where the instrument is pointing when it’s in space.

Three men in long-sleeved blue jackets, blue gloves, and red hard hats stand around a thermal vacuum chamber. The chamber has a square silver base and a conical white top. The man on the left is handing a wrench to a man standing on the base of the chamber. On the right, the third man looks up at the top of the chamber. They are in a lab with a high ceiling and lots of electrical equipment. An American flag hangs from the ceiling. The image is watermarked “Credit: NASA/Sophia Roberts.”ALT

The next stop was back at Goddard, where the team put BurstCube in a vacuum chamber. You can see engineers Franklin Robinson, Elliot Schwartz, and Colton Cohill lowering the lid here. They changed the temperature inside so it was very hot and then very cold. This mimics the conditions BurstCube will experience in space as it orbits in and out of sunlight.

A man in a long-sleeved blue jacket, khaki pants, striped socks, and blue shoes sits on a rooftop. In front of him sits a small, shiny, rectangular spacecraft on top of a black case. Bundles of cables connect to the spacecraft and snake off to the right. He’s looking up at a dusky sky, which behind him is streaked with puffy pink and purple clouds. The horizon shows a line of treetops. The image is watermarked “Credit: NASA/Sophia Roberts.”ALT

Then, up on a Goddard rooftop, the team — including early career engineer Justin Clavette — tested BurstCube’s GPS. This so-called open-sky test helps ensure the team can locate the satellite once it’s in orbit.

A black hard-shell box containing the tiny BurstCube satellite sits on a blue economy-class airplane seat by the window. The case has a blue circular NASA sticker, as well as a yellow square sticker, and three other multicolored stickers on the upper half of the case. It is strapped into the seat by a seatbelt. Outside of the window, the wing of the plane is visible, and beyond that, a faint view of the airport. The image is watermarked “Credit: NASA/Julie Cox.”ALT

The next big step in BurstCube’s journey was a flight to Houston! The team packed it up in a special case and took it to the airport. Of course, BurstCube got the window seat!

In this image, a figure in a checkered clean suit and blue gloves loads the BurstCube satellite into a long, gray, rectangular container on a blue table. BurstCube is a smaller rectangle, with gray sides and a shiny black top, where its solar panels rest. In the background, there’s another figure in a clean suit and gloves. There’s a slight reflection that shows this picture was taken through a window. The image is watermarked, “Credit: NASA/Lucia Tian.”ALT

Once in Texas, the BurstCube team joined their partners at Nanoracks (part of Voyager Space) to get their tiny spacecraft ready for launch. They loaded the satellite into a rectangular frame called a deployer, along with another small satellite called SNoOPI (Signals of Opportunity P-band Investigation). The deployer is used to push spacecraft into orbit from the International Space Station.

This photograph shows a rocket launching. The bottom of the image is filled with green vegetation interspersed with blue water. The sky is blue, with white clouds visible in the distance. The rocket is in the air, about two-thirds of the way to the top, followed by a fiery tail. Directly below it, at ground level, is white and gray plume of smoke. This image is watermarked, “Credit: NASA/Glenn Benson”ALT

From Houston, BurstCube traveled to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, where it launched on SpaceX’s 30th commercial resupply servicing mission on March 21, 2024. BurstCube traveled to the station along with some other small satellites, science experiments, as well as a supply of fresh fruit and coffee for the astronauts.

In this photograph, the CRS-30 cargo mission is shown docking with the International Space Station. Against a black background, a white cone — the cargo mission — is attached to a cylinder with a whitish top. There are boxes in the foreground. The image is watermarked, “Credit: NASA.”ALT

A few days later, the mission docked at the space station, and the astronauts aboard began unloading all the supplies, including BurstCube!

In this animated GIF, a boxy white tube extends at a 45-degree angle from the bottom right-hand corner. After a moment, two small, dark, rectangular objects come out of the tube. These are the BurstCube and SNoOPI CubeSats. They’re very close together initially, but as they move out of frame, they start to separate. In the background is the blue marble of Earth streaked with white clouds, as seen from the International Space Station. The image is watermarked “Credit: NASA.”ALT

And finally, on April 18, 2024, BurstCube was released into orbit. The team will spend a month getting the satellite ready to search the skies for gamma-ray bursts. Then finally, after a long journey, this tiny satellite can embark on its big mission!

This is a photo of nine members of the BurstCube team. BurstCube is the shoebox-sized satellite sitting behind a clear case in the middle of the group. In the photo are three women and six men. Four people standing form a back row, and the remaining five kneel in front of them on a tile floor. Each wears a brightly colored protective jacket and some are attached by gray cords to the surfaces to help them avoid accumulating static electricity. On the ground in front of the team members is bright yellow caution tape. To the left of the image is additional equipment. The photo is watermarked “Credit NASA/Sophia Roberts.”ALT

BurstCube wouldn’t be the spacecraft it is today without the input of many early career engineers and scientists. Are you interested in learning more about how you can participate in a mission like this one? There are opportunities for students in middle and high school as well as college!

Keep up on BurstCube’s journey with NASA Universe on X and Facebook. And make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space!

source: nasa.tumblr.com