What’s a NanoSat? BYU made one they’re calling ‘Spacecraft Selfie Cam’


1806-85 0043

1806-85 CubeSat

Passive Inspection CubeSats (PICs) is Brigham Young University’s first spacecraft mission and the first mission of the multidisciplinary Advanced Spacecraft Team. The PICs mission will demonstrate low-risk, low-cost, spacecraft inspection by a passive, fly-away probe. The Advanced Spacecraft Team, consists of 16 undergraduate students, who assume full responsibility for designing, building, and testing two 1U CubeSats. Their CubeSats are manifest for launch into a 450 km polar orbit in 2018 on Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne. Launch services are provided through NASA CSLI. Spacecraft development is supported by NASA USIP, L3 Technologies, and the BYU Immerse program. The project began in May, 2016.

June 28, 2018

Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU

© BYU PHOTO 2018
All Rights Reserved
photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322


PROVO, Utah (ABC4 News) – A spacecraft “selfie cam” is the fun name given to a 10×10-centimeter CubeSat, a type of square satellite only 3.6 inches square.

“It’s a satellite that is designed to take pictures of another satellite,” said BYU engineering professor David Long. “In other words, it’s a spacecraft selfie cam.”

The space-faring device, which took 60 students over five years to get ready, has cameras on all six sides of the cube. Its purpose is to inexpensively detect damage on a space-craft that can’t be seen in other ways.

According to a release from BYU, Two versions of the BYU CubeSat will join satellites from eight other universities as part of NASA’s ELaNA20 mission. Virgin Galactic’s “Cosmic Girl” spacecraft is set to take the tiny space cubes into space.

ELaNA means “Educational Launch of NanoSatellites.”

The BYU CubeSats are part of a group called nanosatellites. They will be loaded into various tube-style dispensers and are shot into space with a pressurized spring. Think about it like a high-tech dart gun or a Pez dispenser in space.

The second BYU’s “space selfie cams” hit space, they will boot and start recording video. Antenna’s triggered later will start up and then send the video data back to earth, specifically Provo.

“That’s the No. 1 thing I can’t wait to see: those antennas scanning across the sky, watching for satellites,” said BYU grad student Patrick Walton. “There will be a bunch of us in the Engineering Building waiting in front of a screen, looking for a signal to show up on a little graph, and we’ll be ecstatic when we see it.”

If it all works, space ‘selfie cam’ should be impressive. The tiny intricate satellite is a first for BYU’s College of Engineering.

The diminutive satellite packs giant tech. Six solar panels, six cameras, four battery circuit boards, a radio circuit board, a computing board, and believe it or not, 25 cables. BYU’s engineers say that is four times as many as your desktop and only a sixth the size.

“It’s pretty small, but even the simplest spacecraft can be quite complex,” Long said.

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