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Four Payloads to Fly on MidSTAR-2 in 2010

Four Goddard principal investigators have earned berths on a high-risk, experimental satellite — MidSTAR-2 — now being developed by midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

The four experiments and a fifth alternate were selected as part of Goddard’s FY 2007 Internal Research and Development (IRAD) program and are designed to advance the technology readiness level of innovative scientific instruments that the principal investigators could then propose later in future NASA mission opportunities (see box for a description of each).

“This is a program where everyone wins,” said Goddard’s MidSTAR Program Manager Dan Powell. “Students get an opportunity to build and integrate a satellite bus and our principal investigators get a free ride.”

General-Purpose Bus

MidSTAR is a general-purpose satellite bus constructed primarily of off-the-shelf, plug-and-play components assembled and integrated by students, who will receive some instruction and assistance from experienced Goddard engineers, Powell said. It accommodates a range of small space experiments and instruments each weighing no more than 6 lbs. and using no more than 6 watts of power. Goddard’s instrument teams are expected to

have their payloads finished by 2009 for integration onto the satellite.

According to current plans, the MidSTAR platform is expected to launch on a military-provided Delta 4 rocket in 2010. After reaching its medium-Earth orbit, MidSTAR and its instrument payload will spend 2 years in orbit.

Though Powell conceded that the opportunity is risky for principal investigators, the benefits far outweigh the risks. “We stand to gain a substantial scientific return.”


A Delta-4 rocket similar to the one pictured here will deploy the MidSTAR-2 satellite..

Payloads Flying

The following payloads were selected to fly. They include:

MINI-ME (Miniature Imager for Neutral Ionospheric Atoms and Magnetospheric Electrons) — Principal Investigator Michael Collier

MINI-ME is a low-energy neutral atom and electron imager that could reveal more about the global nature of the solar wind and its interaction with solar system planets. One day, the imaging technology also could help explain why Venus lost its water and whether conditions at Europa, Jupiter’s moon, could support life.

PISA (Plasma Impedance Spectrum Analyzer) — Principal Investigator Douglas Rowland

PISA will accurately measure electron density and temperature in Earth’s upper atmosphere — data needed to understand the ways that solar wind produce complex structures and turbulence at high altitudes. These structures can scatter radio waves, making their use for navigation and communication difficult when the Sun is active.

Remote Sensing of the Thermospheric Temperature — Principal Investigator John Sigwarth

This revolutionary imager will remotely sense the temperature of Earth’s thermosphere. Understanding this region is important for determining the effects of atmospheric drag on low-altitude spacecraft.

The Gamma-Ray Burst Polarimeter — Principal Investigator Joe Hill

This experiment will primarily provide flight heritage for several components of a new X-ray polarimeter. X-ray polarimetry can reveal much about the neighborhood of neutron stars or black holes — information not available from imaging, spectroscopy, or timing.

Alternate Payload

Compact, Combined Neutron, Gamma-Ray and Particle Radiation Detector — Principal Investigators Jack Trombka and Ann Parsons

This new device packages a gamma-ray spectrometer with a neutron counter and particle detector — a combination that could reveal more about the chemical abundances found on the surfaces of other solar system objects.


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Last Updated: 09/08/2008