CSSWE Plugs-out Testing

The Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE) is a 3U (10 x 10 x 30 cm) CubeSat funded by the National Science Foundation. Its primary science goals are to understand the relationships between solar energetic protons (SEPs), flares, and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and characterize the variations of the Earth’s radiation belt electrons.

The 3 kg nanosatellite surpassed all of its mission goals and remained fully operational for nearly 5X its design mission lifetime. As the only student fully funded through the project, I was deeply involved in CSSWE throughout my graduate school career.


I joined the project in Spring 2009, when I helped revise the funding proposal for the project. From Fall 2009 onward, I served as the Systems Engineer for the CubeSat. As a Ph.D. student, I was fortunate to remain in school long enough to experience each the phases of the project cycle: everything from dividing the work into smaller and smaller pieces to putting the pieces together and testing to ensure the pieces work together as the sum of the parts.

In keeping with my role as SE, I developed the project requirements, created and maintained multiple technical budgets, worked to ensure that each subsystem team was mindful of their place in the whole system, oversaw all system performance verification testing, led a variety of design reviews, and did the work that was not covered by any subsystem. I also designed the CSSWE attitude determination and control system, which became a large part of my dissertation.

After the CubeSat was inserted into orbit on September 14, 2012, I remained on the project to perform satellite operations. CSSWE was designed for a 90 day science mission; it surpassed this full mission success goal on January 5, 2013. After too many late-night CubeSat passes, I developed an automated control system for the Boulder ground station. This system parses the CSSWE data that has been collected to date, prioritizes the data to request next, requests data during each satellite pass (accounting for satellite health), outputs the data to plots/text files, uploads these files to an internal website for review, and sends review/alert emails based on satellite behavior. This system greatly simplified satellite commanding while keeping operational costs to a minimum.

In my time on the project, CSSWE went from an unfunded idea to an operational spacecraft making serious contributions to space weather science. The impact has been tremendous: CSSWE has over 20 science journal publications, more than any other CubeSat.

More information: