Mission Information


M-Cubed/COVE is the Michigan Multipurpose Minisatellite (M-Cubed) carrying the CubeSat On-board processing Validation Experiment (COVE). M-Cubed/COVE-2 is the reflight of a 1U CubeSat developed by U. Michigan to image the Earth at mid-resolution, approximately 200m per pixel, carrying the JPL developed COVE technology validation experiment. The COVE technology payload will validate an image processing algorithm designed for the Multiangle Spectropolarimetric Imager (MSPI) utilizing the first in-space application of a new radiation-hardened-by-design Virtex5-QV FPGA by Xilinx.

This technology validation mission, sponsored by NASA's Earth Science Technology Office, will advance the technology required for the future spaceborne implementation of the MSPI instrument required for real-time high data rate instrument signal processing relevant to cloud and aerosol science, as well as future Earth observing missions, supporting the Earth Science Decadal Survey.


MSPI baseline observing strategy

MSPI Instrument Design
9 camera instrument design with single airborne camera

The primary technology validation objective of the mission is to demonstrate an on-board processing system to optimize the data processing and instrument design of a Multiangle SpectroPolarimetric Imager (MSPI) planned for the proposed Aerosol/Cloud/Ecosystems mission that will achieve a two-orders of magnitude reduction in data rate for instrument signal processing. This flight will validate the Xilinx Virtex-5QV rad-hard-by-design (RHBD) FPGA and MSPI on-board processing polarimetry algorithm to advance the TRL for MSPI camera development.


AirMSPI Natural Color, Intensity, and Linear Polarization
Images from JPL's AirMSPI camera flight (not corrected for aircraft fluctuations)

A single MSPI camera must process 95 Mbytes/second of raw video data, but this flight experiment will prove the algorithms and space qualify the associated signal processing hardware to reduce the data processing requirement by two-orders of magnitude with no loss of science information.


The Multiangle SpectroPolarimetric Imager (MSPI) is a multi-directional, multi-wavelength, high-accuracy polarization camera, in development by NASA's Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), to support Decadal Survey aerosol science for the proposed Aerosol-Cloud-Ecosystem, or ACE, mission. ACE mission objectives include characterizing the role of aerosols in climate change, especially their impact on precipitation and cloud formation, to reduce the uncertainty of climate forcing in aerosol-cloud interactions and ocean ecosystem carbon dioxide intake. As recognized in the Decadal Survey the interaction among aerosols and clouds is the largest source of uncertainty in current climate models.

MSPI is a follow-on instrument to the JPL-developed Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer, or MISR, that is aboard NASA's Terra satellite. Ground and airborne MSPI instruments have been successfully tested in the relevant environments. The MCubed/COVE-2 CubeSat experiment will help enable development of the future spaceborne MSPI instrument by raising the technology readiness level of the instrument signal processing subsystem through spaceborne validation of compact radiation hardened electronics as well as the polarization processing algorithms planned for the science processing of passively acquired aerosol data.

Technology/Flight Payload


The Xilinx Virtex-5QV rad-hard-by-design (RHBD) FPGA is a first of a kind device that combines rad-hard technology with re-configurability for high performance processing. A polarimetery processing algorithm has been incorporated into the FPGA as well as a new board design that supports the CubeSat form factor.

As this is a new device, with more than 1700 column grid array (CGA) pins where special process engineering was required during the board build to ensure accurate placement and mating of the device to the processing board.


Where is M-Cubed/COVE-2?

M-Cubed/COVE-2 can be tracked via Two-Line Estimate (TLE) data as viewed in Eyes on the Solar System. Eyes on the Solar System utilizes the latest TLEs from JSpOC to place the CubeSat in the most accurate estimated position (note that orientation is not accurately represented). The simulation operation video shows an example of the CubeSat detumble, passive magnetic stabilization, and orientation for imaging and communications with the ground station at U. Michigan.

ELaNa-2 M-Cubed/COVE-2 Launch: December 5, 2013.

ULA Atlas V NROL-39 and GEMS Launch: December 5, 2013.

ElaNa-3 M-Cubed/COVE Launch: October 28, 2011.

ELaNa-3 Payloads Released: Garrett Skrobot.

ELaNa-3 Prelaunch Media Briefing: PIs describe mission objectives.


The JPL team led the processing board layout and design, instrument signal processing algorithms, FPGA firmware implementation, board fabrication, assembly, test, delivery, and integration with the M-Cubed spacecraft, led by PI Paula Pingree.(L to R: Charles Norton, Paula Pingree, Nooshin Meshkaty, Dmitriy Bekker, Chris Peay, Thomas Werne, Brian Franklin, Thor Wison)

JPL Team

The U. Michigan team led the spacecraft bus design and development, ICD requirements specifications with NASA Launch Services, environmental testing, and ground station development and operations, led by co-PI and Professor Jamie Cutler.

Univ of Michigan Team


NASA Earth Science Technology Office