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Department of Earth & Space Science
Space Science Center, Room 101
235 Martindale Drive
Morehead, KY 40351
Phone: 606-783-2381
Fax: 606-783-5040

MSU Home :: Academics :: Earth and Space Science :: NEWS - MSU delivers satellite to NASA for upcoming launch


MSU delivers satellite to NASA for upcoming launch  


CXBN Assembly 

Morehead State University Space Science Center staff and students delivered a satellite to NASA’s Launch Services Program Friday, Jan. 6, marking a major milestone in the Space Science Nanosatellite program. The Cosmic X-Ray Background Nanosatellite (CXBN) was developed by MSU and partners during the past year and passed rigorous space environment testing and a series of design reviews, culminating in the flight readiness review held on Dec. 31.

CXBN is an astrophysics mission whose goal is to provide an improved measurement of the universe's X-Ray background and could help resolve a mystery in modern cosmology-- the origin of the cosmic X-ray background.   In Big Bang cosmology, the universe was created 13.8 billion years ago and relic radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum that the event produced is studied to lend insight into the physics of the early universe.  The relic radiation peaks in the microwave part of the spectrum with a smaller secondary peak in the X-ray regime.  While the microwave background radiation is well understood having been studied since the mid-1960s, the X-ray background is less well understood and few measurements exist that allow astronomers to interpret its origin. The existing measurements are imprecise and differ from each other significantly, a condition which precludes astronomers from knowing which of the physical models developed to explain the X-ray background is correct. The CXBN mission addresses a fundamental science question that is clearly central to our understanding of the structure, origin, and evolution of the universe by potentially lending insight into both the high energy background radiation and into the evolution of primordial galaxies.

The mission was selected in January 2011 by NASA to fly on the Operationally Unique Technology Satellites (OUTSat ) Mission as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of a Nanosatellite (ELaNa) program. The Space Science Center submitted a proposal to NASA in Fall 2010 which was subsequently awarded, resulting in the flight opportunity on the OUTSat Mission.

The idea behind the science mission was developed by Dr. Ben Malphrus, Director of the Space Science Center and Chair of the Department of Earth and Space Sciences, and his long-time collaborator Dr. Garrett Jernigan, astrophysicist at the University of California Berkeley.

A partnership ensued that resulted in MSU becoming the lead institution on the program- being responsible for the design, fabrication and testing of the spacecraft bus, including spacecraft structures, subsystems, software systems and on-orbit operation of the spacecraft.

Dr. Jernigan’s team at UC Berkeley and collaborators at Black Forest Engineering (BFE) in Colorado designed and built the science payload—a silicon-based X-ray detector, one of the most sensitive ever built in the 20- 100 keV energy range.  Other collaborators are engineers and scientists including Dr. John Doty from Noqsi Aerospace, Dr. Lance Simms at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Dr. Steve Anderson at Sonoma State University and members of the Kentucky Space staff led by Twyman Clements.

MSU’s team consists of Assistant Professor of Space Science Kevin Brown, who serves as the systems engineer, leading the efforts to design, fabricate and test the spacecraft systems. Brown added significant nanosatellite experience to the Space Science Center team, having designed and built spacecraft systems at Lockheed Martin, Stanford University and Astrodev.  He worked closely with the student team, training them in the various technologies and processes involved in designing and developing spacecraft components to operate in the extreme environment of space.

 Other team members include Dr. Roger McNeil, dean of the College of Science and Technology; Jeff Kruth, electrical and radio frequency engineer; Eric Thomas, Star Theater director; Bob Kroll, space systems engineer; Michael Combs, satellite earth station operations engineer; and a team of undergraduate and graduate students.

The student engineering team is led by Tyler Rose of Carlisle, who participated in the design and fabrication of every component of the spacecraft.  Numerous students had the opportunity to participate in the program, providing invaluable experience for them in actual space systems design—a rare opportunity for graduate students, and an exceedingly rare event for undergraduate students.  About a dozen students from Kentucky, Ohio and international -- from Italy, South Korea, and South Vietnam --  form the student engineering team. They participated in all aspects of engineering design and fabrication of the spacecraft and performed the work in concert with the Space Science Center faculty mentors.

Once on orbit, the spacecraft will be operated by students using MSU’s 21-meter Space Tracking Antenna and other ground assets.  The science data collected will be reduced, calibrated and analyzed by astrophysics students under the direction of faculty mentors.

To participate in design reviews, mission readiness reviews, design and fabrication of the spacecraft subsystems, proto-flight testing, operation of the spacecraft, and analysis of the science data represents extraordinary opportunities for students.

The satellite itself adheres to the CubeSat form factor—a nanosatellite standard now adapted worldwide, that was invented by Bob Twiggs, professor of Space Science, while at Stanford University. CXBN is among the most sophisticated and capable CubeSats ever built.  The satellite is a 2U Cube (measuring 10 x 10 x 20 cm and weighing 2.5 kg) and will track the sun and orient itself toward the sun on orbit using an innovative attitude determination and control system, while rotating once every 6 seconds, allowing the science array to scan the universe.

The satellite also contains state-of-the-art command and data handling systems, power management systems (using deployable solar panels), communication systems, and thermal and structural components—all designed and built at MSU’s Space Systems Development Laboratory.  Nearly all of the environmental testing (including vibration analysis, electromagnetic testing, and functional testing) was conducted in the MSU Space Systems Verification Laboratory.  Thermal-vacuum (T-vac) testing was conducted at the Kentucky Space facilities and the University of Kentucky.

CXBN is significant in that it is the first satellite entirely built at MSU, with the exception of the science payload which was built at BFE, UC Berkeley and Morehead State.    Space Science Center staff participated in the design, fabrication and operation of a number of other micro and nanosatellite systems including KySat-1 (with Kyspace), EduSat (with the University of Rome), RAMPART (with a consortium of universities and government labs), and Frontier-1 (with KySpace), but CXBN represents the first major satellite project that Morehead State University has taken the leading role in developing.

CXBN was developed on a highly compressed schedule—having been designed, built, and tested in one year.  This rapid development time is a hallmark of the CubeSat form factor.    NASA made the award in January 2011 and the satellite was delivered to CalPoly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., in January 2012, almost one year after the award.  Dr. Malphrus indicated that “the project was only possible on this timeline because of the extraordinary dedication of time and effort from the team and because nearly all of the space systems development, fabrication, and testing infrastructure has been established at the Space Science Center, allowing all of the work to be done in-house.”

Professor Bob Twiggs added “the accomplishments of this team at MSU in partnership with Kentucky Space staff that I have seen since coming to MSU are truly amazing.  I have been on the sidelines watching and the level of complexity in the projects and the professionalism skills they now posses make an awesome team that I would rank as the best university team that I know of. These skills have been demonstrated by the delivery of CXBN—a very sophisticated satellite developed on a nearly impossible timeline.”


The CXBN project represents an important  benchmark for MSU’s Space Science program-- a satellite designed, built, tested and to be operated by staff and students.

CXBN will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Vandenberg CA in September of 2012.

 Additional information is available by calling Dr. Malphrus at 606-783-2381 or by visiting the project’s website at


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