Skip to: Main Content Search Navigation Secondary Navigation

Bobcat nanosatellite selected by NASA for launch

Elisabeth Weems, Anna Hartenbach and Colleen Carow | Apr 9, 2018
NASA CubeSat

Bobcat nanosatellite selected by NASA for launch

Elisabeth Weems, Anna Hartenbach and Colleen Carow | Apr 9, 2018

NASA has selected Ohio University’s research nanosatellite Bobcat-1 as one of just 11 small spacecrafts from the U.S. and Puerto Rico as auxiliary payloads aboard upcoming space missions.

The result of an ongoing partnership between the Russ College of Engineering and Technology’s Avionics Engineering Center at Ohio University, and NASA Glenn Research Center, Bobcat-1 was chosen for the ninth round of the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative. Often referred to as nanosatellites, CubeSats measure about four inches square and weigh less than three pounds – making them more affordable than conventional satellites – and are designed to last roughly six-to-twelve months in orbit.

According to David Juedes, chair of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), OHIO and NASA began to collaborate in the 1960s. This included research at OHIO’s Radar Hill facility that involved bouncing microwaves off the moon to map its surface, receiving data from the first lunar lander, Surveyor I. The Radar Hill facility was one of the NASA’s backup ground stations.

Today, faculty, staff, and students at the Avionics Engineering Center continue to perform research for NASA.

“We've had a long relationship with NASA in a number of areas,” Juedes said. “I think our selection is a suggestion that we’re doing things that are important, and that NASA recognizes this work has intellectual merit. Our students really get to work on the cutting edge.”

Senior Kevin Croissant, computer engineering major; and sophomore Alexis Lanier, electrical engineering and computer science double major; collaborated with Russ Professor Frank Van Graas, Cheng Professor Maarten Uijt de Haag and EECS Visiting Professor Sabrina Ugazio on the project.

Built by educational institutions and non-profit organizations, selected CubeSats are eligible for placement on upcoming launches to demonstrate technology, perform scientific investigations or serve educational purposes. Bobcat-1 measures time offsets between global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) to create a precise time reference in orbit, transmits the offsets to the Stocker ground station, Russ College personnel sends them to NASA, then NASA transmits them to their satellites for use. 

Croissant, who designed and built the ground station with Lanier, explained that some satellites are placed at higher orbits than GNSS satellites, and as a consequence, they have limited visibility of their signals. Bobcat-1, however, will be at a low orbit that has higher visibility of the GNSS signals and can perform measurements to assist the other satellites in finding their position

“Precise and accurate time is used for a variety of things, most notably for positioning and navigation,” Croissant said. “Position is computed based on a process called trilateration, which measures the arrival time of signals from different GNSS satellites. However, timing is also very important for satellites that need to work together – it’s important that all these satellites have synchronized time so that their measurements are done simultaneously and have correct timestamps.”

Differential code biases are one of the many timing offsets that occur among satellites in a navigation constellation, but Lanier created a program -- which was used to design Bobcat-1’s algorithm for finding the inter-constellation biases -- to analyze these biases.

Lanier said collaboration between universities and research centers promotes student interest in research, and brings fresh ideas to the table.

“It’s important for institutions like NASA to collaborate with universities because it can lead to great advances in the scientific world,” she said. “It combines the ideas of young, aspiring individuals with a highly experienced organization.”

Ugazio, who is working with the students on algorithm design, says their involvement helps connect their classroom learning to real-world applications.

“Students play a core role in this project, which I believe will help tighten the connection between teaching and the research activities, and increase the students’ interest in the research world,” Ugazio said. “Thanks to the Bobcat-1, we can now provide hands-on experience with space projects for our students. This is important, as space is a rapidly growing area with many low-earth orbit satellite constellations being developed and deployed.”

The Cubesat Launch Initiative has selected a total of 158 CubeSats from 39 states, and has launched 59 CubeSat missions as part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa), an initiative to attract and retain students in the STEM field, through NASA’s Launch Services Program.

To learn more about launch opportunities through the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative, visit the website.