Space and Missile Systems Center payloads arrive at International Space Station on NASA commercial resupply mission

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  • By SMC Public Affairs
  • Space and Missile Systems Center

The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and its mission partners successfully delivered the Aerospace Rogue Alpha/Beta CubeSats and Space Test Program Satellite-4 (STPSat-4) to the International Space Station.

The mission, designated NG-12, started with the on-time launch of an upgraded Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems Antares 230+ rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A Nov. 2 at 9:59 a.m. EDT from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

“The Cubesats have been successfully delivered to the International Space Station,” said Col. Dennis Bythewood, SMC’s program executive officer for Space Development. “Now we are excitedly waiting until their deployment so that we can begin collecting data for future space development missions.”

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply spacecraft, which carried the Aerospace Cubesats to orbit aboard the S.S. Alan Bean, named in honor of the Apollo 12 moonwalker and Skylab 2 astronaut who died last year, was successfully grappled by the Canadarm 2 robotic arm this morning at 4:10 a.m. EST approximately 210 miles above the island nation of Madagascar in preparation for berthing it to the space station's Unity module by NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch. The cubesats will remain there until deployment in January 2020.

The Aerospace Cubesats have officially achieved their priority mission of developing a small low Earth orbit constellation in just 18 months. The cubesats will now collect data on cloud backgrounds to inform future LEO missions. The Air Force will also utilize this program’s data to investigate potential uses of the capability.

“We are pleased to have delivered the Aerospace Rogue CubeSats to the International Space Station,” said Dr. Jeff Emdee, general manager of the Space Development Division at The Aerospace Corporation. “The Cubesats were conceived under our Agile Mission Assurance initiative to demonstrate a rapid reconstitution capability. We then designed and produced them for SMC’s Development Corps in less than 18 months using the very small form factor of the proven AeroCube platform.”

The Space Test Program Satellite-4 (STPSat-4) is a free-flying spacecraft that will be deployed from the International Space Station to carry experiment packages into LEO. It will be operated by a small DOD team consisting of active duty officers and DOD contractors in a “lights-out” operational approach. All commands and data will be handled via creative scheduling techniques that remove the need for a 24/7 operations center.

STPSat-4 is a collaborative effort between the Department of Defense Space Test Program, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Aerospace Corporation, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Observatory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and aerospace industry partners. Experiment objectives range across disciplines including Atmospheric/Space Weather, Space Situational Awareness, Materials Science, and Technology Demonstrations. The Space Test Program, through the STPSat-4 satellite, also has the goal of launching and operating a small satellite deployed from the International Space Station.

The payload complement includes five DOD experiments from multiple agencies. STPSat-4 was launched inside the pressurized volume of the spacecraft S.S. Alan Bean. It will be deployed from the ISS in January 2020.  STPSat-4 will operate for at least one year in LEO.  An additional objective is to demonstrate the Commercial Air Force Space Command Network Service’s (CAS) ability to support a 24/7 operational mission.  CAS is the only ground system being used by STPSat-4.

The STP Human Spaceflight Payloads Office in Houston, Texas is responsible for integrating the experiments from each agency and lab into a single assembly. Integration began in December 2013 with the Kickoff TIM, marking the entry into the preliminary design phase for the overall payload. The integration phase ended with turnover to NASA at the Cargo Mission Contract building in Houston, when STPSat-4 was loaded into a foam clamshell for launch.

The team, including officers and engineers from the Innovation and Prototyping Directorate, MEI Technologies, Inc., and The Aerospace Corporation, provided the “cradle-to-grave” integration services for the complement. This included generating and providing integrated requirements documents and verifications for the NASA integration and safety process, integrated environmental testing, and support of ISS crew operations for deployment. STP also designed, procured, and assembled the bus avionics (flight computer, ADCS, radios, EPS) that tie the STPSat-4 components together electrically and designed, built, and provided manufacturing for the structural components that house the experiments on a single satellite structure.

Additionally, STP wrote and tested complementing flight and ground software for on-orbit operations and the ground system to support “lights out” ground operations. STPSat-4 leveraged NASA’s Core Flight Software (CFS) to streamline the software development on the bus and ground system.

Orbital operations begin once STPSat-4 is transferred to the ISS. Just prior to deployment, the crew will install STPSat-4 onto the SSIKLOPS (Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems) deployment system. SSIKLOPS (aka Cyclops) was developed through a partnership with NASA to deploy larger satellites from the ISS.After the ISS crew installs STPSat-4 on Cyclops, the satellite will be transferred outside the ISS through the Japanese airlock and deployed. The STP Operations team performs the Initial Operational Checkout from fixed ground stations in the CAS network in the US and UK. Using a “lights out” approach, STPSat-4 will be operated by the STP Operations team with inputs from the principal investigators using the STPOPS ground system. Each experiment has primary and secondary objectives that will be tested throughout the minimum one year on-orbit mission. This long duration testing is key to maturing the technologies and proving the advanced design and operations concepts that each Payload team represents.

This delivery, on Northrop Grumman’s 12th cargo flight to the space station and the first under its Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract with NASA, will support dozens of new and existing investigations. The NG-12 Cygnus spacecraft will remain at the space station until January before it disposes of several thousand pounds of trash through its controlled reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is the U.S. Air Force's center of excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems.  SMC’s portfolio includes space launch, global positioning, military space vehicle communications, defense meteorological space vehicles, range systems, space vehicle control networks, space-based infrared systems, and space situational awareness capabilities.


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