This blog post originated in the 2016 Science Mission Directorate Technology Highlights Report (20 MB PDF).Technology Infusion
A team led by University of Colorado (CU) researchers has successfully developed the first science CubeSat mission for NASA’s Heliophysics Division. The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer-1 (MinXSS-1) is a 3-Unit CubeSat measuring the energy distribution of soft X-rays from the sun.The BCT XACT pointing system (top dark grey box, 0.5 Unit) integrated onto MinXSS-1 (3 Units). Photo credit: CU/LASP.
The satellite was deployed from the International Space Station on May 16, 2016 and has been operating for over nine months, as of March 1, 2017. To take measurements, MinXSS-1 must stably point its primary science instrument, an Amptek X123 X-ray spectrometer, towards the sun. This precise pointing is made possible by the new Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) XACT attitude determination and control system (ADCS), which experienced its first flight on MinXSS-1. The XACT can continuously point MinXSS-1 to within 0.002° of the sun, which is akin to pointing at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC from Los Angeles, Ca. This new, high level of pointing precision is now commercially available for CubeSat missions and enables scientific measurements that simply were not possible before. Other innovations in the MinXSS-1 mission include measuring the solar X-ray spectrum with unprecedented energy resolution using a Silicon Drift Detector (SDD) in the Amptek X123; technology demonstration of a low-noise, low-power electrometer for photodiodes that was developed for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) series; and deployable, high-efficiency solar panels designed and built by CU graduate students.Impact
MinXSS-1 was the first science CubeSat launched for SMD. The pointing performance of XACT has already been employed with the solar X-ray measurements obtained by MinXSS-1. The energy resolution of the X123 is about 400 times higher than the resolution the GOES X-Ray Sensor (XRS) has provided for decades. XRS measurements are the standard by which solar flares are classified. Using simultaneous measurements from MinXSS-1 and GOES XRS, researchers have developed a new calibration method for the XRS data that yields a more accurate value for the sun’s soft X-ray emission brightness and the temperature of the solar corona. Future studies of solar flares and many space weather applications will benefit greatly from this new method.
MinXSS-1 data are also being used to study the material flowing upward from the sun’s surface into the corona during solar flares to learn how the corona can be about 2 million degrees Fahrenheit, while the solar surface (photosphere) is only about 10 thousand degrees Fahrenheit, and to determine how magnetic energy on the sun is driving the intense activity of solar X-rays.
NASA is already one of the biggest consumers of BCT pointing systems. The Agency also flew one on the Earth Science RAVAN mission (see page 6) and plans to fly them on the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission to Mars as part of the InSight mission, the Compact Radiation Belt Explorer (CeREs) CubeSat to study Earth’s radiation belt, and numerous other missions. The challenge of precision pointing on a CubeSat science mission has now been solved with the BCT ADCS; therefore, NASA and other institutions planning CubeSat missions can now focus on developing compact instruments to advance the science results from future CubeSat missions.Status and Future Plans
In 2016, the BCT XACT system was proven to be a robust ADCS that is providing amazing 0.002° pointing precision for the MinXSS-1 CubeSat. The MinXSS team at the University of Colorado will continue operating MinXSS-1 until its expected re-entry in May 2017. The team has also developed the MinXSS-2 CubeSat, which is ready for launch in 2017 to a higher-altitude sun-synchronous orbit, where it will operate for five years.Deployment of NASA MinXSS-1 (lower left CubeSat) and National Science Foundation/ University of Michigan CubeSat investigating Atmospheric Density Response to Extreme driving (CADRE) (upper right) from the International Space Station on 2016 May 16. (Credit: Tim Peake, ESA/NASA) Sponsoring Organization
Technology development for MinXSS-1 was funded by the SMD Heliophysics Division H-TIDeS program. The PI is Dr. Thomas N. Woods at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and the MinXSS team includes scientists and engineers from University of Colorado, NASA GSFC, Southwest Research Institute, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
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For many years, pastoralists in Northern Kenya have been affected by Opuntia stricta, an invasive cactus native to the Caribbean region and commonly referred to as prickly pear. This invasive species not only has overtaken the landscape and shrunken the forage space for both wildlife and livestock, but it also produces purple-reddish fruits that are highly toxic to animals.A bull salivating, with thorns and wounds in his mouth, after eating the spiny fruit of a prickly pear cactus. Image credit: RCMRD
While there are many tales about how and when this invasive cactus was introduced in Kenya, it was most likely brought in by ranchers in the 1950s as a live fence to demarcate land boundaries. Mr. Sepeika, a livestock farmer in Laikipia, Kenya, says the plant has invaded large tracts of his grazing land and even thrives during dry spells. He adds that domestic and wild animals suffer either sickness or death as none are spared by the wild fruit.
“The cactus has small spines on the surface of its fruits that can lodge in the throat, stomach or intestines of any animal that eats it, oftentimes causing a slow death.” For Sepeika and his fellow pastoralists, livestock is everything because it provides food, income, as well as status. Thus, the invasive prickly pear threatens the livelihoods and way of life for pastoralists in the region.
As with many invasive plant species, large-scale eradication of prickly pear is expensive and time-consuming. It requires a combination of herbicides, manual cutting, burning, and even the introduction of a specific sap-sucking bug that heavily infests the prickly pear leaves, gradually destroying the plant until it finally dies. Peter Hetz of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum has firsthand knowledge of the difficulties in battling this nuisance over the years. “We have even tried removing the plant manually by clearing the bushes, but have combated these invasive cacti without much success.” Adding to this challenge is the lack of accurate mapping of the areas with the highest concentrations of this plant, which is necessary to effectively mobilize limited resources in eradication plans.
Seeking to address these shortcomings, SERVIR - Eastern and Southern Africa at the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) developed the Invasive Species Mapper – a smartphone application that facilitates the collection of data on the current distribution of prickly pear and other invasive species in Kenya. Using satellite data and geospatial technologies, this app was designed to accurately map invasive species hotspots where particular plants are concentrated, which is important in prioritizing and planning both financial and human resources to eradicate invasive plant species.Using the Invasive Species App in the field. Image credit: RCMRD
This app can be downloaded onto any Android phone and is customized with a comprehensive list of local invasive plants to aid in identification. Livestock farmers and local community leaders can now easily mark the precise location prickly pear clusters by taking a photo with their smartphone, which is uploaded with GPS coordinates and transmitted directly to RCMRD’s database for processing. This app can also work offline when there is limited internet connectivity. Once data collected in the field are sent to RCMRD for analysis, a predictive model is applied to produce maps of current and future distributions of the invasive species under different climate scenarios. SERVIR has offered multiple training workshops to build the capacities of various RCMRD partners in using the application to collect data. John Letai, Deputy Director, Environment and Natural Resources of the Laikipia County Government, welcomed the new mapping tool saying the county had estimated they require $2 million (USD) to eradicate prickly pear in Laikipia alone. He added the plant spreads remarkably fast, especially when baboons and elephants move across the landscape.
“The negative impact to our lands from the prickly pear is undeniable. We are looking at additional ways to reduce the effects of the plant on our grasslands, our livestock, and our livelihoods. It is for this reason that additional solutions such as this Invasive Species Mapper must be implemented to increase the rate at which the plant is destroyed.”
Uploaded data can be viewed and downloaded through: http://mobiledata.rcmrd.org/invspec
Written by Dorah Nesoba of SERVIR-E&SA/RCMRD.
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