Small Satellite-based System for Active and Passive Sounding of the Ionosphere DC-HF

Period of Performance: 07/23/2012 - 04/19/2013


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Atmospheric & Space Technology Research
5777 Central Avenue, Suite 221
Boulder, CO 80301
Principal Investigator


ABSTRACT: Accurate specification of the ionospheric environment is critical to Air Force and DoD needs, because it impacts communications, navigation and surveillance systems. Most current ground-based ionospheric monitoring systems are expensive, large, and power-hungry providing poor coverage over ocean areas. To address the need for a small, inexpensive and low power instrument capable of on-demand global-coverage, we propose a satellite-based topside ionospheric sounder (TIS). TIS will measure the topside electron density profile and, by merging the instrument with a floating potential double probe, will also characterize the electric field vector. TIS will fit within an envelope of 10cmx10cmx10cm, weigh approximately 1 kg and consume less than 5 Watts of power. The Phase-I conceptual design effort will be led by Dr. Geoff Crowley who has significant experience as PI of the DICE Cubesat mission, with world-class Cubesat instrument development, and has led the development of the TIDDBIT HF sounder and a software-defined radio, dual fresquency GPS receiver. The collaborators include Dr. Chad Fish who has extensive experience with ground based radars and small satellite design ad Dr. Charles Swenson who s team at SDL has significant experience with deployable booms and instrument hardware on the currently operating DICE CubeSat mission. BENEFIT: The TIS is a merger of two unique ionospheric sensors and takes advantage of the strengths of both instruments while providing unprecedented miniaturization and enabling flights on future CubeSat missions. TIS represents an advance in the state-of-the-art in ionospheric specification allowing for increased coverage and on-demand theater observation. This stems from the innovative approach taken by the proposal team which states that high power is not required to produce a high quality ionogram. By reducing the system noise and optimizing the sampling characteristics, the low power TIS is able to outperform its predecessors in terms of data coverage, sampling rate, and SWaP. The reductions in the SWaP allow TIS to be flown on CubeSats as well as large satellite missions of opportunity. By combining measurements of the topside electron density profiles with electric field specification, the proposed approach provides a more complete picture of the ionospheric behavior. The resulting observations can improve assimilative techniques which predict scintillation and validate numerical models of the ionosphere which are critical for DoD needs. The result is more than the sum of its parts providing not only a smaller and more cost-effective instrument but also novel capabilities for increasing space situational awareness.