Student club Bronco Space will have another date with the stars as it launches its second CubeSat into space later this month.
The aim of this miniature satellite will differ from Bronco Space’s previous launches. Both BroncoSat-1 and Bronco Ember launched with aims to validate the viability of housing certain technologies in a CubeSat. The former tested whether artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning algorithms can perform in a satellite this small, and was the first space launch in Cal Poly Pomona’s history. The latter, which launched closer to home, was designed to detect nascent wildfires by using the technology housed in BroncoSat-1 to identify the fires.
Their third satellite has educational aims. Called Pleiades Rapid Orbital Verification Experimental System (PROVES), the CubeSat was built at a fraction of the cost of a usual CubeSat at just $1,000 to manufacture it. Typically, costs are roughly $50,000 and cheaper ones can go from around $5,000 to $10,000.
At $1,000, a CubeSat program in universities and even high schools is viable, offering a low-cost avenue into a growing field in astronautics.
“When we were making BroncoSat-1, we realized just how much we were learning with the hands-on learning that CPP is all about,” said aerospace engineering student Megan Beck, the program manager for PROVES. “So, we wanted to able to extend that opportunity to students within our university and to other universities.”
The best way to do that is to simply reduce the price of producing a CubeSat. Bronco Space hopes to create a CubeSat kit that can be purchased and provide an open-source repository of information to build the CubeSat from start to finish.
Manufacturing is often one of the most expensive parts of CubeSat production—blocks of metal are machined down to the precise shape to create the overall structure of the CubeSat. Instead, the team opted for laser cut aluminum sheet metal that bent into the shapes needed.
While this would be a major compromise in structural integrity and practically guarantee that the CubeSat would break apart from the gravitational forces (g-force) exerted on it in the space launch in isolation, Bronco Space’s engineers were resourceful. Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are sturdy structures that transport power from one component to another in the CubeSat. The team discovered that the structural strength of the PCBs was more than sufficient and used it as the basis of ensuring that PROVES would survive the launch. It acted as the core bones of the satellite, providing it with the strong frame to make it to space intact and fully functional.
“That’s not something you’d find in a textbook,” said Pham.
With the launch set before the end of the year, it’s another project in the books for the productive student club.
“That was a fantastic experience,” said Beck. “I’ve also really enjoyed watching all of our student engineers grow as people and as engineers and find all these really cool solutions to all of these really difficult problems.”