MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Franklin O'Donnell
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEAugust 19, 1999
MINIATURE CRAFT TO TEST SPACE TECHNOLOGY
They're each about the size of a large birthday cake, weigh
about as much as a desktop computer, and are smart enough to fly
in formation far from Earth while they test new technologies.
They are three very small satellites, called the Nanosat
Constellation Trailblazer mission, and today NASA selected them
as the agency's latest mission in the New Millennium Program,
managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The mission will validate methods of operating several spacecraft
as a system, and test eight technologies in the harsh space
environment near the boundary of Earth's protective magnetic
field, or magnetosphere.
Each Trailblazer spacecraft will be an octagon 40
centimeters (16 inches) across and 20 centimeters (8 inches)
high, and each will have booms and antennas that will extend
after launch. The mission will cost $28 million and will be
launched in 2003 as a secondary payload on an expendable launch
vehicle. The Trailblazer mission is managed by NASA's Goddard
Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Results from the Trailblazer mission will be used to design
future missions using constellations of lightweight (about 20
kilograms (44 pounds)), highly miniaturized autonomous
spacecraft. One proposed constellation of up to 100 spacecraft
positioned around Earth will monitor the effects of solar
activity that can affect spacecraft, electrical power and
communications systems. Others will study global precipitation
and the atmospheres of other planets.
The Nanosat Constellation Trailblazer is the fifth in the
agency's New Millennium program, which tests technology for
future space and Earth science missions. The program's goal is
to dramatically reduce the weight, size and costs of missions
while increasing their science capabilities.
The technologies to be flown and tested, and the partners
-- A miniature communications system to determine the
positions of the spacecraft using the Global Positioning System
(NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and
Cincinnati Electronics Corp., Mason, Ohio).
-- A set of software that automatically operates the
spacecraft and determines orbits (Bester Tracking System,
-- A communications system component that uses one-fourth
the voltage and half the power, weighs 12 times less and is nine
times smaller than proven technology (Aero Astro, Boston, Mass.).
-- A new method of connecting electrical lines that saves
weight (Lockheed Martin, Denver, Colo.).
-- A new type of microelectronic device that is more
reliable and uses 20 times less power than proven technology
(Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of New Mexico,
-- An electrically tunable coating that can change its
properties from absorbing the Sun's heat when the spacecraft is
cool to reflecting or emitting heat when needed (Goddard Space
Flight Center and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics
Lab, Laurel, Md).
-- A very tiny microelectromechanical system chip that
provides fine attitude adjustments on the spacecraft using 8.5
times less power and weighing less than half as much as proven
systems (Marotta Scientific Controls, Montville, N.J.).
-- Development of a lithium ion power system for small
satellites. This features a rechargeable lithium ion battery that
stores two to four times more energy and has a longer life than
proven technology (Yardney Technical Products, Pawcatuck, Conn.).
"Not only could these technologies make future
missions more productive and less expensive, some could become
consumer products," said Dr. Dana Brewer, New Millennium program
executive at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. "For example,
the variable-emittance thermal-control system is a coating
applied to surfaces such as automobile windows which becomes
highly reflective when you apply an electrical current to it.
It blocks out a lot of the sunlight, keeping it cooler inside a
The New Millennium Program tests new technologies for future
space and Earth-observing missions, and is managed by JPL for
NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a
division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena,