Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

September 14, 2012

Kentucky-built satellite reaches earth orbit

Jason Blanton

Sept. 14, 2012 — MOREHEAD, Ky.---Morehead State University and its partners have announced the launch and on-orbit deployment of the first satellite entirely built in Kentucky that was successfully launched into Earth orbit. The Cosmic X-Ray Background Nanosatellite (CXBN) is a loaf of bread sized, five pound nanosatellite designed to be one of the first “cubesats” to undertake a significant science mission. The goal of the CXBN mission is to significantly increase the precision of measurements of the Cosmic X-Ray Background emanating from the explosive birth of the universe some 13.8 billion years ago. Measurements made by the satellite’s X-ray detector will constrain models that attempt to explain the relative contribution of proposed sources lending insight into the underlying physics of the early universe.


The satellite launched at 5:38 p.m. on Sept. 13 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as a secondary payload on the Department of Defense NROL-36 mission. The defense satellite and eight smaller satellites collectively referred to as OUTSat (Operationally Unique Technology Satellite) were lofted to a 500 km orbit above the Earth on an Atlas V rocket.


CXBN was selected by NASA in 2011 for the flight opportunity through NASA’s Educational Launch of a Nanosatellite (ELaNa) program. The satellite was entirely built in Kentucky at Morehead State University, and its payload, an innovative Cadmium-Zinc-Telluride X-ray detector, referred to as the science array, was built at Black Forest Engineering in Colorado.


Students and faculty of the Morehead State University Space Science Center and its partners designed, fabricated, tested, and delivered the satellite to NASA in one year. Partnering on the project with Morehead State were Kentucky Space LLC, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Noqsi Aerospace, Black Forest Engineering and Little H-Bar Ranch. Dr. Ben Malphrus, chair of MSU’s Department of Earth and Space Science, serves as principle investigator on the project, leading the team to completion and delivery of the satellite on the extremely compressed one-year timeline. Dr. Garrett Jernigan, formerly of the University of California at Berkeley and currently with Little H-Bar Ranch, is the Project Scientist and designed the science array. Assistant professor of space science Kevin Brown and Tyler Rose, student engineering team leader, led a team of engineers and scientists at the Space Science Center in designing, building and testing the satellite.


The remarkable thing is that all of the spacecraft systems were built at the Space Science Center, largely by undergraduate students, who performed the engineering design, machined the mechanical structures, built the electronics, and wrote the flight software,” said Dr. Malphrus.


The satellite will be operated from the Mission Operations Center at MSU that controls the University’s 21 Meter Space Tracking Antenna and other ground station assets. The nominal science mission of the satellite is expected to be approximately one year.

Kentucky Space and its partners, since its inception in 2007, have flown experiments on two space shuttle flights, developed the first CubeLabs on the International Space Station, and launched a CubeSat, KySat-1 in 2010 (but experienced a rocket failure). CXBNrepresents the first satellite built in Kentucky to reach Earth orbit.


CXBN represents a remarkable achievement for a small group of scientists, engineers, and students to have achieved in such a short time,” observed Kris Kimel, president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation and CEO of KySpace LLC.


The team from the Space Science Center includes Dr. Roger McNeil, dean of MSU’s College of Science and Technology, Eric Thomas, Star Theater director and microfabrication engineer; Jeff Kruth, staff electrical engineer; Michael Combs, space antenna systems engineer; Bob Kroll, space systems engineer; Dr. Tom Pannuti, associate professor of space science; professor Bob Twiggs who invented the CubeSat world-wide nanosatellite standard, and a team of 16 students. Twyman Clements of KySpace directed the extensive space environment testing defined by NASA to meet its launch services program requirements.


CXBN is one of the first CubeSats to perform a significant science mission, proving that the nanosatellite form factor invented by Twiggs in 2004 has evolved into a highly effective small satellite platform capable of performing a wide variety of satellite functions. CXBN will be operated primarily by undergraduate students at MSU who will also reduce, calibrate, and analyze the scientific data it produces. CXBNwas funded internally by Morehead State University and its partners.


For more information, contact Dr. Malphrus at 606-783-2381 or