NRO’s Two IMPACT CubeSats Deployed from International Space Station

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)’s two IMPACT CubeSats were successfully deployed from the International Space Station (ISS), the agency announced.

The initial data from the IMPACT experiments and those launched as part of NRO’s Greenlighting program are positive, according to the NRO.

The IMPACT CubeSats originally launched as rideshare aboard an Antares rocket as part of the Northrop Grumman-12 (NG-12) Cygnus cargo resupply mission from NASA Wallops Space Flight Facility on Nov. 2, 2019.

Led by NRO’s Advanced Systems and Technology (AS&T) directorate, the two 3U CubeSats are part of the NRO’s IMPACT project – a research and development effort to provide an early evaluation of new technologies in space. The CubeSats provide a cost-effective, low-risk method for the NRO to rapidly demonstrate and test out new capabilities in a space environment.

Manifested as AeroCube 14, the two 3U IMPACT CubeSats use the Aerospace Corporation’s AeroCube for unique bus and integration support and host 14 technology demonstrations ranging from new materials, such as structural materials and thermal straps, to solar cells, star tracker experiments and on-board processors.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)’s two IMPACT CubeSats being deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) on Jan. 31, 2020. NRO Photo.

To assist with the NRO’s research and development goal of rapid technology infusion, the IMPACT program offers a regular launch cadence for technology demonstrations; provides an adaptable bus that enables easy onboarding and off-boarding of those technologies, and serves as the front end of the technology for NRO future capabilities.

Four of the experiments are also part of NRO’s new Greenlighting program, which leverages and evaluates the performance and space survivability of new technologies developed by non-traditional commercial partners in a streamlined fashion on a rapid timeline.

The unclassified Greenlighting program focuses on technology development, not satellite development, by giving vendors supporting NRO’s mission goals the ability to focus on maturation of technologies without having to worry about the logistics of getting to space.

By using a standard circuit board interface on which to host small module technology experiments, the Greenlighting program drives miniaturization of technologies and keeps costs low — all while giving these projects access to space testing that might not be available through traditional means.

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