Cal Poly’s 10th CubeSat Mission to Blast Off From New Zealand on Dec. 12

CubeSat 1
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly’s milestone 10th CubeSat mission will launch today (Dec. 12) from New Zealand to study radio wave interference in the ionosphere — the first time NASA CubeSats will have a dedicated ride to orbit on a commercial launch vehicle.

ISX , or Ionospheric Scintillation explorer, is a three-unit CubeSat, a class of mini-satellites (built in 10-centimeter units), that is about the size of a loaf of bread. The four-hour launch window begins at 8 p.m. PST from Rocket Lab’s private orbital launch site, Launch Complex 1, on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula.

“This was a big mission for us with a tight schedule,” said Grigory Heaton, a senior studying aerospace engineering and physics, who is the co-mission lead for the ISX mission for PolySat, the student-run research lab. “Most of the assembly occurred last winter. It’s awesome that we get to have this spacecraft launched while most of the students who worked on the assembly itself are still here at Cal Poly.”

ISX will be launched into an orbit with an altitude of about 500 kilometers — about 30 miles higher than the team’s last satellite, DAVE, or Damping and Vibrations Experiment, which launched in September from Vandenberg Air Force Base. ISX will be “in a fairly polar orbit, so the satellite will fly over almost all points on Earth at some point,” Heaton said.

The project began in 2015 as a joint effort with SRI International, an independent nonprofit research and development organization. The satellite was funded by the National Science Foundation.

SRI developed the payload design and construction, and the interpretation of mission data. PolySat students handled the CubeSat design and construction and, upon ISX reaching orbit, will conduct the ground station operations, Heaton said. 

“We will be working with SRI after launch to operate the payload and downlink payload data for analysis,” he said.

The spacecraft is among 10 research CubeSats to ride aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket on NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 mission. This is the third orbital launch of the year for Rocket Lab, a U.S. small satellite launch company, and the fourth launch of the Electron.

“ISX is a radio-science mission to study interactions between radio signals and plasma in the upper ionosphere,” Heaton said. “It will measure digital TV signals from orbit using SRI’s payload and compared to measurements on the ground to study plasma structures in the upper atmosphere.

“This is also our lab's first time launching a satellite on a launch that is all CubeSats. Every other time we’ve launched, the satellite has been behind a much bigger satellite. So it's pretty cool that our satellite actually gets to be inside the fairing as part of the main payload.”

PolySat is a multidisciplinary and independent lab made up of students from a variety of majors. ISX team members include students studying aerospace, computer, electrical, mechanical and software engineering as well as computer science and physics.

Today’s launch will include CubeSats from  other U.S. universities, including: University of Florida; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; North Idaho STEM Charter Academy; New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; the U.S. Naval Academy; and West Virginia University.

Watch live coverage of the ELaNa-19 launch on Rocket Lab’s YouTube channel: For real-time updates on launch day, follow Rocket Lab on Twitter @RocketLab.

CubeSat 2CubeSat 3

Note: Higher-resolution images available upon request

Contact: Jay Thompson

December 12, 2018

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