• Flying “Mock CubeSats” on Stratospheric Balloon Missions

    Oral Presentation

    Flying “Mock CubeSats” on Stratospheric Balloon Missions

    Authors: , , , ,


CubeSats are pico-satellites that measure just 10 x 10 x 10 cm (AKA 1U) (or 10 x 10 x 20 cm (2U) or 10 x 10 x 30 cm (3U)).They are typically carried into space inside spring-loaded P-POD launchers as ballast on large rockets and, once in low-Earth orbit, the CubeSats are ejected overboard. Although CubeSats are tiny and relatively inexpensive, at least by outer-space satellite standards, they can still require tens of thousands of dollars (or more) to develop and many months (sometimes years) to build and test. They also depend on orbital launch opportunities which remain quite rare,even if offered for free by launch providers.

We build non-space-rated (AKA “mock”) CubeSat-shaped payloads and test-fly them in a space-like environment on weather balloon flights into the stratosphere. For added realism, our mock CubeSats are carried aloft inside a “mock P-POD” which then opens once in the stratosphere, allowing the CubeSats to dangle free of the P-POD as if they are free-flying. Mock CubeSats are challenged to get their data to the ground by radio telemetry (in addition to logging data onboard) – another nod to realism, since outer-space CubeSats are nearly always destroyed during reentry so their onboard data records cannot be recovered.

Building and flying mock CubeSats has multiple advantages. For schools that develop actual CubeSats, mock CubeSats can provide training for incoming students as well as a “near-space” option for testing outer space flight hardware and data telemetry radio systems. For schools that do stratospheric ballooning but do not build actual CubeSats (or at least, not yet), developing and flying mock CubeSats can be used as a realistic challenge—especially the size constraints and the radio-telemetry of data—at a far lower cost than building CubeSats for outer space missions.

Our foray into mock CubeSats began with a freshman seminar and now continues as an on-going activity in our extracurricular ballooning team. This presentation will focus on one particularly-complicated,albeit realistic, 3U CubeSat which is modeled after SOCRATES, our school’s first actual CubeSat. Our mock version, which we call “MOC-SOC” contains a Geiger counter—SOCRATES carries a scintillation detector instead—a 900 MHz FreeWave MM2-T radio, UBLOX GPS, Arduino Mega microcontroller, and four deployable solar panels. The goal of MOC-SOC is to be as faithful to the real SOCRATES mission as possible, which means all of these components are lower-budget versions of things that SOCRATES will actually contain. MOC-SOC’s mission will be to continuously take data with the Geiger counter, combine this with onboard GPS data, then both log and transmit that data to the ground via 900 MHz radio. After the CubeSat has been released from inside the mock P-POD, it will deploy solar panels on 4 sides. Rather than powering the CubeSat, as SOCRATES does, MOC-SOC will just log and transmit the solar panel voltage and power data. In this way MOC-SOC mimics the major parts and functionality of SOCRATES on a much lower-budget,yet in an educationally valuable way.

Keywords: CubeSat, mock, stratospheric, ballooning

How to Cite:

Flaten J. & Bartlett J. & Krieg E. & Lenz E. & Bowers R., (2020) “Flying “Mock CubeSats” on Stratospheric Balloon Missions”, Academic High Altitude Conference 2019(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.31274/ahac.240



Published on
10 Apr 2020