NASA funds long-standing partners in CubeSat development

10/9/2019 Debra Levey Larson

Written by Debra Levey Larson

CubeSat SASSI2, which launched in April 2019
CubeSat SASSI2, which launched in April 2019
Since its founding 21 years ago, CU Aerospace has partnered with the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The partnership was recently awarded new funding from NASA to work on another CubeSat project. NASA selected them, along with just 13 other companies, to receive an award from its fourth competitive Tipping Point solicitation. They will receive $1.7 million to build and test a six-unit CubeSat equipped with two different propulsion systems.
CU Aerospace logo
CU Aerospace logo
A large part of this partnership’s success is due to the leadership of CU Aerospace. The company’s founder and current president David L. Carroll said, since 1998, his company has partnered on over 50 subcontracts with U of I worth over $5 million in total. 

“We have always viewed our close ties to the department as wonderfully symbiotic and have had a collegial teamed effort throughout with many different professors and students,” Carroll said. “We also welcome the fresh infusion of new ideas and expertise from the University and have hired countless interns over the past two decades, several of whom have become full-time personnel at CUA.”

Michael Lembeck, director for the Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois, is pleased with the working relationship that has been established between CUA and U of I. “David understands the constraints and benefits of working with students, having come out of this environment. It’s a real pleasure to partner on these kinds of missions with him.”

Carroll said this latest CubeSat is called DUPLEX, for Dual Propulsion Experiment.

“DUPLEX will test two of CU Aerospace’s thrusters in space to provide flight heritage for these new, innovative systems, significantly lowering risk for future customers while dramatically raising the Technology Readiness Level,” he said.

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate uses public-private partnerships to advance tipping point technologies. DUPLEX is fully funded from design to launch.  

Carroll explained that the design and build of the DUPLEX spacecraft will be relatively straight forward, in principle.

“Making certain that the electronics all work well together and are properly isolated between multiple spacecraft systems, including two new electric propulsion technologies, will be critical,” he said. “Because there are two back-to-back thrusters on either side of the spacecraft, on orbit operations will require careful coordination to make sure the spacecraft is oriented correctly at the start of thruster operations for each thruster system. The ability to provide orbit change with our systems will also require careful coordination and planning to avoid conjunction with other spacecraft/satellites.”

NearSpace Launch will be responsible for the CubeSat bus, power system, radios, and much of the electronics. The delivery of the DUPLEX spacecraft to NanoRacks is anticipated in February 2022 for future launch.

David L. Carroll earned three degrees from the Dept. of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois: B.S. 1985, M.S. 1986, and Ph.D. 1992. He founded CU Aerospace in 1998 along with Wayne Solomon, Michael Bragg, and Rodney Burton—all of whom were former department heads, and Victoria Coverstone and Scott White—who were both faculty members.  

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This story was published October 9, 2019.