The 2013-14 seasons marks the true beginning of UTAT expanding into space-related projects. To this end, within the UTAT Rocketry division the team will be designing a CubeSat deployment mechanism as well as a 1U CubeSat prototype to be launched as the main payload on the Eos II rocket. A CubeSat is a standardized nanosatellite design that is constraint to a volume of 10x10x10cm and a maximum mass of 1.33kg. The CubeSat platforms was designed to allow small groups and even individuals low-cost access to space.
Traditionally, CubeSats were used as technology demonstration missions. That is, using CubeSats to demonstrate some technological advancement without the costs and inherent risks associated with testing this technology on a full-scale satellite. More recently however, CubeSats have been used for scientific, earth observation, remote sensing, and even educationally-focused missions. CubeSat launches have gained such popularity, that it is predicted that by 2020 there will be a need for around 150 nano/microsatellites launches per year, the majority of which is made up of CubeSat launches, This puts a large demand on the need for dedicated launchers for CubeSats. Today, CubeSat launches are facilitated as “piggy-back payloads” on large rockets which is where a CubeSat is launched alongside a much large satellite payload. This however puts a constraint on the number of CubeSat launches that can occur per year, and further exacerbates this need for dedicated CubeSat launchers.
This need for dedicated launchers is becoming so great, that recently NASA issued a Call for Proposals for dedicated CubeSat launchers under the NASA Launch Services Enabling eXploration & Technology (NEXT) initiative. With a backlog of more than 50 CubeSats waiting for a launch opportunity, it is no wonder that NASA is encouraging dedicated launchers.
The intent of the UTAT Rocketry payload deployment design is to both give students exposure to CubeSats, but moreover to give students the tools and knowledge to help fill this CubeSat launcher gap within the space industry. While the Eos II rocket itself would be unable to perform as a dedicated CubeSat launcher, the skills gained from its designed will no doubt be impactful in ensuring dedicated CubeSat launchers in the near future.
The deployment mechanism (called the Mono-Picosatellite suborbital Deplorer, or M-POD) for the Eos II rocket is modelled after the standard P-POD interface. The dimensions internal to the M-POD are identical to the P-POD internal dimensions, and can house a standard 1U CubeSat. The Eos II rocket will use the M-POD to deliver a CubeSat prototype, also being designed by UTAT, to 10,000ft to be used as a technology demonstration mission.
The M-POD features two distinct mechanisms for CubeSat deployment. First, a set of explosive bolts separates the nose cone which then latch onto the main rocket body. One latched, a signal is set to open the payload door atop Eos II which will allow the CubeSat to be deployed via a large compression spring underneath the CubeSat. The CubeSat will be outfitted with a recovery system to allow to payload recovery after deployment.