Small Satellite Program (United States Naval Academy)

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The United States Naval Academy (USNA) Small Satellite Program (SSP)[1] was founded in 1999 to actively pursue flight opportunities for miniature satellites designed, constructed, tested, and commanded or controlled by Midshipmen. The Naval Academy's aerospace laboratory facilities are some of the most advanced and extensive in the country.[2] These facilities include structures labs, propulsion and rotor labs, simulation labs, wind tunnels with flow velocities ranging from subsonic to supersonic, computer labs, and the Satellite Ground Station.[3] The SSP provides funds for component purchase and construction, travel in support of testing and integration, coordination with DoD or National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) laboratories or with universities for collaborative projects, and guides Midshipmen through the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Experiments Review Board (SERB) flight selection process.

The satellite development process is a multi-semester effort requiring the contributions of Midshipmen from several consecutive graduating classes. First Class Midshipmen (seniors) in EA470 Spacecraft Design initiate the process in the spring semester of their First Class year with identification of the mission and determination of requirements followed by development of the conceptual design. Students in subsequent classes take the satellite through feasibility study, final design, construction, testing, and launch platform integration. Each Spring, First Class Midshipmen in the design class reinitiate the process with a new satellite concept so that new projects are germinating to take the place of those that are coming to completion and awaiting launch.

The scope of the projects supported by SSP is limited by the resources of the USNA Department of Aerospace Engineering. The astronautics cadre of the Department consists of five individuals: one full professor (now serving as Department Chair), one permanent military professor, two full-time visiting professors and one half-time visiting professor. These five are assisted by two staff members assigned to the USNA Satellite Ground Station (SGS): one senior engineer and one senior technician. The Midshipmen participating in SSP-sponsored projects are predominantly drawn from First Class (senior) majors in aerospace engineering who have chosen to concentrate on astronautics. This number fluctuates from year to year, current enrollment is 14 for the class of 2006. Financial resources are also thin. Projects are initiated with seed money from a $50K/year grant to the USNA Foundation from The Boeing Co., or from internal USNA funds. Additional funds are occasionally available for specific projects from collaborating federal agencies or sponsors.

Cognizant of these constraints, the SSP has consciously and deliberately entered the spaceflight arena in an incremental manner. Sapphire (USNA-0) was obtained as a complete and tested spacecraft from an experienced university small satellite producer. PCSat-1 (USNA-1) was designed and built in-house, but with a build-it-simple-and-rugged philosophy. Onboard systems were limited: communications and electrical power only. Missions were sharply defined: the communications system itself was the primary mission, and the secondary mission (an onboard Global Positioning System receiver) needed only power and communications support that both meshed well with the PCSat design. Commercial off-the shelf parts were chosen for ruggedness, simplicity and low cost rather than spaceflight heritage. Pre-flight testing was limited to verification of functionality after vibration and thermal/vacuum environment testing. USNA-2 and USNA-3 are repetitions of the proven PCSat communications system design. USNA-4 is a new satellite design, larger and more complicated than PCSat, but still limited in scope and dedicated to experiments of moderate interest. The project proposed here offers a unique opportunity for SSP to participate fully in cutting-edge science, despite its limited financial and personnel resources.

The USNA MidSTAR Program's first satellite, MidSTAR I (USNA-5) was launched 8 March 2007.[4] The planned MidSTAR II (USNA-8) was canceled. It would have followed the ParkinsonSat (USNA-7).[5]

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