Carnegie Mellon University
January 28, 2022

Satellite Designed at CMU Launches into Low-Earth Orbit

By Krista Burns

Krista Burns
  • College of Engineering

The Tartan-Artibeus-1 Satellite, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, was aboard SpaceX's successful Falcon 9 launch of Transporter-3 to orbit on Jan. 13. It was deployed to low-Earth orbit as part of the Alba Unicorn constellation.

"Our lab developed the Tartan-Artibeus-1 Satellite, which is what we believe to be the world's first batteryless PocketQube nanosatellite," said Brandon Lucia, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. "This project was led by Ph.D. students Brad Denby and Emily Ruppel from my lab and in collaboration with Alba Orbital, our launch services provider."

A group photo
Professor Brandon Lucia (far right) with his lab students.

The mission's goal was to demonstrate the viability of PocketQube-scale nanosatellites that operate reliably without batteries, eliminating the cost and complexity of battery-based power systems in nanosatellites. The sensor-equipped, 5 cm cube (1/8 the size of a CubeSat) can sense its environment and perform orbital edge computing to process sensor data in a way that is robust to intermittent operation.

During the mission, the satellite collected telemetry data about its operation (power state, stored energy, GPS location) and collected and processed sensor data about its environment using applications such as machine learning and inference. The results were sent back to Earth using a low-power radio.

"A unique aspect of this mission was that while on orbit, the satellite ran Cote, a physics-based orbital dynamics model and orbital edge computing simulator that we developed, giving the satellite better situational awareness without the need to communicate to earth," said Lucia. "This batteryless satellite is the first of its kind and we are very excited for the new scientific results enabled by this unique deployment to Earth's orbit."

Falcon 9's first stage booster previously launched Crew Demo-2, ANASIS-II, CRS-21, Transporter-1, and five Starlink missions. Transporter-3 is SpaceX's third dedicated rideshare mission, and on board this launch were 105 spacecraft (including CubeSats, microsats, PocketQubes, and orbital transfer vehicles).

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