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Proceedings Paper

ExoplanetSat: detecting transiting exoplanets using a low-cost CubeSat platform
Author(s): Matthew W. Smith; Sara Seager; Christopher M. Pong; Jesus S. Villaseñor; George R. Ricker; David W. Miller; Mary E. Knapp; Grant T. Farmer; Rebecca Jensen-Clem
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Paper Abstract

Nanosatellites, i.e. spacecraft that weigh between 1 and 10 kg, are drawing increasing interest as platforms for conducting on-orbit science. This trend is primarily driven by the ability to piggyback nanosatellites on the launch of large spacecraft and hence achieve orbit at greatly reduced cost. The CubeSat platform is a standardized nanosatellite configuration, consisting of one, two, or three 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm units (1, 2, or 3 "U"s) arranged in a row. We present a CubeSat-based concept for the discovery of transiting exoplanets around the nearest and brightest Sun-like stars. The spacecraft prototype - termed ExoplanetSat - is a 3U space telescope capable of monitoring a single target star from low Earth orbit. Given the volume limitations of the CubeSat form factor, designing a capable spacecraft requires overcoming significant challenges. This work presents the initial satellite configuration along with several subsystem-specific solutions to the aforementioned constraints. An optical design based on a modified commercial off-the-shelf camera lens is given. We also describe a novel two-stage attitude control architecture that combines 3-axis reaction wheels for coarse pointing with a piezoelectric translation stage at the focal plane for fine pointing. Modeling and simulation results are used to demonstrate feasibility by quantifying ExoplanetSat pointing precision, signal-to-noise ratio, guide star magnitude, and additional design parameters which determine system performance.

Paper Details

Date Published: 11 August 2010
PDF: 14 pages
Proc. SPIE 7731, Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2010: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave, 773127 (11 August 2010); doi: 10.1117/12.856559
Show Author Affiliations
Matthew W. Smith, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
Sara Seager, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
Christopher M. Pong, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
Jesus S. Villaseñor, Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
George R. Ricker, Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
David W. Miller, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
Mary E. Knapp, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
Grant T. Farmer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
Rebecca Jensen-Clem, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7731:
Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2010: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave
Jacobus M. Oschmann; Mark C. Clampin; Howard A. MacEwen, Editor(s)

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