CSSWE (foreground) and P-POD Deployer prior to integration[1]
Mission typeSpace weather research
COSPAR ID2012-048D
SATCAT no.38761
Mission duration3 months (planned)
24+ months (achieved)
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft type3U CubeSat
Start of mission
Launch dateSeptember 13, 2012, 21:39:00 (2012-09-13UTC21:39Z) UTC
RocketAtlas V 401 AV-033
Launch siteVandenberg SLC-3E
ContractorUnited Launch Alliance
Entered serviceOctober 4, 2012
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee altitude472 kilometers (293 mi)
Apogee altitude777 kilometers (483 mi)
Inclination64.6 degrees
Period97.19 minutes
EpochSeptember 14, 2012[2]
REPTile - Relativistic Electron and Proton Telescope integrated little experiment

Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE) was the sixth[when?] National Science Foundation sponsored CubeSat mission.[3][4] It was built by students at the University of Colorado at Boulder with advising from professionals at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The CSSWE mission was a joint effort by the University of Colorado's Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences and Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The mission principal investigator was Prof. Xinlin Li, and the Co-PIs are Prof. Scott Palo and Dr. Shri Kanekal. The project manager for the project was Dr. Lauren Blum, the system engineer was Dr. David Gerhardt, and the instrument scientist was Dr. Quintin Schiller.[5]

CSSWE launched on September 13, 2012, on an Atlas V rocket by the United Launch Alliance on ELaNa-VI as part of the NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI).[6] The CSSWE team released its science products to the public for download on NASA's Coordinated Data Analysis Web Site (CDAWeb).

As of December 22, 2014, CSSWE showed severe battery degradation, likely due to pushing the battery thousands of cycles beyond the battery's design specs. As a result, CSSWE cannot retain enough power to receive or transmit data.

Mission Objective

CSSWE's mission objective is to study space weather from a near-Earth orbit (480 km x 780 km).[7] Specifically, CSSWE works in conjunction with concurrent missions (such as the Van Allen Probes, BARREL, and SAMPEX) to address the following questions: 1) How does solar flare location, magnitude, and frequency elate to the timing, duration, and energy spectrum of solar energetic particles (SEPs) reaching Earth and 2) How the spectrum and dynamics of Earth's radiation belt electrons evolve.[8]

Science Instrument

CSSWE's science instrument, the Relativistic Electron and Proton Telescope integrated little experiment (REPTile), is the only science instrument aboard and meets the mission objectives. It is a scaled-down version of the Relativistic Electron and Proton Telescope (REPT) instrument,[7] which is part of the Energetic Particle, Composition, and Thermal Plasma (ECT) Instrument Suite[9] on board the Van Allen Probes. REPTile fulfills the mission objectives by measuring electrons from 0.58 to >3.8 Megaelectronvolts (MeV) and protons from 8 to 40 MeV.[10][11][12] Also on the CubeSat is an onboard magnetometer to provide knowledge of spacecraft and instrument orientation with respect to Earth's magnetic field.

Pre-Flight Testing

CSSWE underwent the same rigorous testing that all space-based assets at LASP do. In addition to component and subsystem level testing, the spacecraft underwent numerous system level tests. It passed the thermal vacuum chamber test, in which 11 orbital cycles of the spacecraft were simulated in vacuum by increasing and decreasing the spacecraft temperature to reproduce thermal models which predict actual on-orbit temperatures. The first few hours of the mission were reproduced by simulating launch (in which the deployment switch is released, initiating automated commissioning phase) from a mesa nearby the LASP ground station. CSSWE passed this test by completing the initial commissioning phase, deploying its antenna, and establishing contact with the LASP ground station. Orbital attitude tests were performed as well, including Helmholtz cage and error ellipse tests.


CSSWE was originally scheduled to launch on August 2, 2012 aboard the National Reconnaissance Office Launch-36 (NROL-36). However, the launch was delayed three times to provide additional time for resolution of a range instrumentation issue, according to the United Launch Alliance official statement.[13] The Atlas V 401 eventually launched on September 13, 2012 from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 3.[14][15]

The primary payload aboard NROL-36 was a classified NRO payload, so no spacecraft or orbit information was provided. However, there were 11 CubeSats on board the rocket as secondary payloads. The launch vehicle delivered the CubeSats into a 480x780 km orbit with an inclination of 65 degrees. The CubeSats were carried in eight PPOD dispensers attached to the end of the Centaur rocket via the Aft Bulkhead Carrier, which replaced an unnecessary Helium tank.[13] Four of the CubeSats were launched as part of the NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program - CSSWE (University of Colorado - Boulder), CINEMA 1 (University of California - Berkeley et al.), CXBN (Morehead State University), and CP5 (California Polytechnic University). The remaining seven were Aeneas (operated by the University of Southern California), two SMDC-ONE (US Army), STARE-A (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), and three AeroCube-4 (Aerospace Corporation).[16]

An artistic rendition of how CSSWE would appear on orbit.
An artistic rendition of how CSSWE would appear on orbit.

On Orbit Success

The spacecraft uses a measuring tape as an antenna to communicate with ground stations. CSSWE was first heard beaconing telemetry packets by amateur radio operator call sign DK3WN almost exactly two hours after deployment from the PPOD, overcoming its first major hurdle. The spacecraft completed science commissioning and was commanded into full science mode 22 days later on October 5. Full mission success occurred on January 5, 2013 after three months of science data. The CSSWE mission ended in December 2014 due to battery degradation.

The first science results and updated science results were presented, respectively, at the 2012 and 2013 Fall American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, CA.[17] and published in peer-reviewed Journals such as Geophysical Review Letters,[18][19] the Journal of Geophysical Research,[20] and Science. CSSWE now has 24 associated peer-reviewed scientific or engineering journal publications, including a paper published in Nature on 13 December 2017. [21]


  1. ^ Jonathan Brown; Riki Munakata (2008). "Dnepr 2 Satellite Identification and the Mk.III P-POD" (PDF). California Polytechnic State University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2010-07-30.
  2. ^ McDowell, Jonathan. "Satellite Catalog". Jonathan's Space Page. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  3. ^ NSF Award Details
  4. ^ "University of Colorado Press Release". Archived from the original on 2013-05-02. Retrieved 2012-01-24.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-01-12. Retrieved 2014-01-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "ULA NROL-36 Launch Highlights". Archived from the original on 2013-12-07. Retrieved 2013-03-21.
  7. ^ a b Li, X., S. Palo, R. Kohnert, L. Blum, D. Gerhardt, Q. Schiller, and S. Califf (2013), Small mission accomplished by students - big impact on space weather research, Space Weather, Accepted, DOI: 10.1002/swe.20025
  8. ^ Li, X., S. Palo, and R. Kohnert (2011), Small Space Weather Research Mission Designed Fully by Students, Space Weather, 9, S04006, doi:10.1029/2011SW000668
  9. ^ Van Allen Probes Instrument Suites Archived 2013-09-08 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Blum, L. and Q. Schiller (2012), Characterization and testing of an energetic particle telescope for a CubeSat platform, Proceedings of the AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Frank J. Redd Student Scholarship Competition, SSC12-VIII-4
  11. ^ Schiller, Q. and A. Mahendrakumar (2010), REPTile: a miniaturized detector for a CubeSat mission to measure relativistic particles in near-Earth space, Proceedings of the AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Frank J. Redd Student Scholarship Competition, SSC10-VIII-1
  12. ^ Li, X., S. Palo, R. Kohnert, D. Gerhardt, L. Blum, Q. Schiller, D. Turner, W. Tu, N. Sheiko, and C. S. Cooper (2012), Colorado student space weather experiment: Differential flux measurements of energetic particles in a highly inclined low Earth orbit, in Dynamics of the Earth’s Radiation Belts and Inner Magnetosphere, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 199, edited by D. Summers, et al., pp. 385–404, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/2012GM001313.
  13. ^ a b NASASpaceFlight.com Launch Summary Archived December 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "ULA Launch Press Release". Archived from the original on 2013-12-07. Retrieved 2013-03-21.
  15. ^ "NRO Launch Press Release" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-15. Retrieved 2013-03-21.
  16. ^ "NROL-36 2012 CubeSat Workshop Presentation" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-03-04. Retrieved 2013-03-21.
  17. ^ RBSP 2012 AGU Presentation List
  18. ^ Blum, L. W., Q. Schiller, X. Li, R. Millan, A. Halford, and L. Woodger (2013), New conjunctive CubeSat and balloon measurements to quantify rapid energetic electron precipitation, Geophys. Res. Lett., 40, 5833–5837, doi:10.1002/2013GL058546.
  19. ^ Schiller, Q., X. Li, L. Blum, W. Tu, D. L. Turner, and J. B. Blake (2014), A nonstorm time enhancement of relativistic electrons in the outer radiation belt, Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, doi:10.1002/2013GL058485.
  20. ^ Li, X., et al. (2013), First results from CSSWE CubeSat: Characteristics of relativistic electrons in the near-Earth environment during the October 2012 magnetic storms, J. Geophys. Res. Space Phys., 118, doi:10.1002/2013JA019342.
  21. ^ Xinlin Li, Richard Selesnick, Quintin Schiller, Kun Zhang, Hong Zhao, Daniel N. Baker, and Michael A. Temerin (2017), Measurement of electrons from albedo neutron decay and neutron density in near-Earth space, doi:10.1038/nature24642.