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Filed under: Project-archive — mgrusin at 3:45 pm on Monday, September 7, 2009

DANDE, the Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer, was CoSGC’s entry in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s University Nanosat 5 (UN5) competition. DANDE went from a proposal in late 2006, to flight hardware and a fully-realized mission concept in 2009, and won first place at the competition’s conclusion, earning it a government-sponsored flight sometime in the next few years.

DANDE’s mission is to perform in-situ studies of the neutral thermosphere, a region of the tenuous upper atmosphere which is too high for aircraft to study, and too low for most spacecraft to enter. This region is highly variable, and coupled to both solar activity and lower weather patterns in ways which are not clearly understood. The winds, weather, and variability of this region have serious effects on spacecraft maneuvering and lifetimes, and is an important area of study.

DANDE will study this area using two unique instruments. The first is an accelerometer suite (ACC) which will be used to measure spacecraft acceleration and deceleration due to local variations in density and in-track winds. The accelerometer suite uses six radially-mounted commercial-grade accelerometers, and a unique data-processing scheme which takes advantage of the spacecraft’s spin, to measure nano-g accelerations using relatively inexpensive micro-g components.

The other on-board instrument is the Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS), a miniature instrument which can measure the atomic composition of the local neutral atmosphere. This instrument includes a unique “imaging” capability which can measure this composition across a 16-pixel fan, allowing the determination of not only the composition of the local atmosphere but also the presence of any cross-track winds. These two instruments will allow DANDE to produce an accurate profile of the composition and weather effects of the neutral thermosphere it will pass through on its brief 100-day mission, hopefully leading to improved atmospheric drag models in the future.

I served as lead systems engineer on the DANDE project.  This unique mission required a unique architecture.  To produce an accurate drag profile, the spacecraft needed to be as spherical as possible. This requirement created numerous design challenges, including conforming photovoltaic panels and flush-mounted antennas to the spherical structure.  Solutions were found to all of these issues, and on many occasions weaknesses were turned into strengths. The judges at the UN5 competition commended the DANDE team on their requirements management, well-integrated design, professional build quality, and strong science mission relevance, especially for a student project.

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