The Virginia CubeSat Constellation Mission; Impact of Privatization of the Space Industry

Brink, Joseph, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Baritaud, Catherine, EN, University of Virginia
Goyne, Chris, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

Most forms of transportation stress the importance of accounting for drag and air resistance, however this is much more difficult for satellites. With the private aerospace industry booming, companies are launching state of the art satellites into orbit while relying upon 40 year old models of atmospheric density to calculate drag. My technical project involves the use of a CubeSat to develop a new atmospheric drag model for orbital calculations. My STS research is centered on investigating the effects of the aerospace industry’s shift towards the private sector. The research topics are loosely coupled by the fact that CubeSat’s were born out of the private sector’s desire to build smaller and more affordable satellites. The drag models created by this research have the potential to be used by hundreds of aerospace organizations across the industry.
Satellites orbiting the earth eventually cease to be used, usually either due to a component failure or the obsolescence of the on board technology. Without orbital corrections being sent to these dead satellites, their orbits begin to mutate over time, occasionally bringing them dangerously close to operational satellites. The creation of a more accurate drag model will allow us to predict the orbital transformations of these satellites in advance to avoid catastrophic collisions. Our goal is to use the GPS location data of our CubeSat constellation to develop a drag model using the drag forces on multiple satellites with varying surface area.
Recent communication between the Wallops Island Flight Facility and our CubeSat have rendered the Libertas CubeSat unusable until the satellite loses power and resets. At this point, data collection is not possible, but there is hope communication will resume with the remaining two CubeSats as well as Libertas in the event of a reset. Although we have not collected enough data to compile a drag model, we have analyzed data to extrapolate rotational periods as well as satellite lifespan, which will be useful in the production of future satellites.
My STS research dives into the overall impact of the privatization of the aerospace industry. My thesis uses a variety of sources including private journals and government data to demonstrate the two way relationships that the industry has with the government, consumer, scientists, public, and more. Data is heavily used to highlight the economic impact that the industry has made, while journal articles are used to underline the softer relationships with consumers and world ethics.
Government collected data has shown a tremendous increase in both the number of private aerospace companies and the amount of private investment that they are receiving. Coupled with data on the significant number of jobs created by the industry, this displays the shift from public to private sector has positively impacted both the economy and the industry itself. Aerospace journals emphasize the importance of analyzing aerospace ethics regarding topics such as space junk and shared resources.
Overall, the aerospace industry’s shift towards the private sector has led to a plethora of positive effects in recent years, including the invention of CubeSats. However, the companies must be cautious to practice ethical engineering as the industry continues to grow.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Space, CubeSat, Social Construction of Technology

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering
Technical Advisor: Chris Goyne
STS Advisor: Catherine Baritaud
Technical Team Members: Cameron Greer, Conner Hsiang, Maggie Pollard, Connor Segal

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