Constellation of CubeSats for Realtime Ionospheric E-field Measurements for Global Space Weather

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Geoffrey Crowley1, Charles Swenson2, Marcin Pilinski1, Chad S Fish1, Tim L. Neilsen3, Erik M Stromberg3, Irfan Azeem1 and Aroh Barjatya4, (1)Atmospheric and Space Technology Research Associates LLC, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)Utah State University, Logan, UT, United States, (3)Space Dynamics Laboratory, North Logan, UT, United States, (4)Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Physical Sciences Department, Daytona Beach, FL, United States
Inexpensive and robust space-weather monitoring instruments are needed to fill upcoming gaps in the Nation’s ability to meet requirements for space weather specification and forecasting. Foremost among the needed data are electric fields, since they drive global ionospheric and thermospheric behavior, and because there are relatively few ground-based measurements. We envisage a constellation of CubeSats to provide global coverage of the electric field and its variability.

The DICE (Dynamic Ionosphere CubeSat Experiment) mission was a step towards this goal, with two identical 1.5U CubeSats, each carrying three space weather instruments: (1) double probe instruments to measure AC and DC electric fields; (2) Langmuir probes to measure ionospheric electron density, and; (3) a magnetometer to measure field-aligned currents. DICE launched in October 2011. DICE was the first CubeSat mission to observe a Storm Enhanced Density event, fulfilling a major goal of the mission.

Due to attitude control anomalies encountered in orbit, the DICE electric field booms have not yet been deployed. Important lessons have been learned for the implementation of a spin-stabilized CubeSat, and the design and performance of the Attitude Determination & Control System (ADCS). These lessons are now being applied to the DIME SensorSat, a risk-reduction mission that is capable of deploying flexible electric field booms up to a distance of 10-m tip-to-tip from a 1.5U CubeSat. DIME will measure AC and DC electric fields, and will exceed several IORD-2 threshold requirements. Ion densities, and magnetic fields will also be measured to characterize the performance of the sensor in different plasma environments.

We show the utility of a constellation of electric field measurements, describe the DIME SensorSat, and demonstrate how the measurement will meet or exceed IORD requirements. The reduced cost of these sensors will enable constellations that can, for the first time, adequately resolve the spatial and temporal variability in ionospheric electrodynamics.

DICE and DIME are collaborations between ASTRA and Space Dynamics Lab/Utah State University.