Vandenberg Falcon 9 Launch

DANDE and CUSat signals received by Dmitry Pashkov UB4UAD

DANDE and CUSat signals received by Dmitry Pashkov UB4UAD

Two satellites, DANDE and CUSat, carrying amateur radio payloads were launched on Sunday, September 29.

Engineers with DANDE nano-satellite prior to shipping - Image credit University of Colorado Boulder

Engineers with DANDE nano-satellite prior to shipping – Image credit University of Colorado Boulder

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base marks several firsts for the commercial space transportation company, including the maiden launch of an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 rocket with stretched fuel tanks, more powerful engines and a 5.2-meter payload fairing to enshroud satellites.

It is also the first SpaceX mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base, a launch site on California’s Central Coast, where engineers modified an existing facility used by the U.S. Air Force Titan 4 rocket to be the West Coast home of the Falcon 9.

Canada’s Cassiope space weather research and communications demonstration satellite is riding the Falcon 9 rocket into an elliptical near-polar orbit at an altitude of between 325 km and 1500 km. Secondary passengers aboard include POPACS, DANDE and CUSat.

POPACS satellites - Image credit POPACS consortium

POPACS satellites – Image credit POPACS consortium


The second P in POPACS (Polar Orbiting Passive Atmospheric Calibration Spheres) stands for Passive, meaning that the three spheres do not carry radios on board. They are simple, polished ten-cm-diameter hollow Aluminum spheres, weighing 1kg, 1.5 kg and 2 kg, respectively, that will be radar tracked by the Space Surveillance Network of the U.S. Strategic Command and optically tracked by an international network of students with Go To telescopes.

The purpose of the mission is to measure the way in which the total density of Earth’s upper atmosphere above 325 km varies in response to solar stimuli during the descending phase of Solar Cycle 24 and all of Solar Cycle 25.  The spheres’ expected lifetimes, after deployment into the initial 325 km x 1500 km 80 degree orbit that they will hopefully soon share with DANDE and CUSat, are 10, 12.5 and 15 years, depending, of course on solar activity.

DANDE nano-satellite prior to packaging - Image credit Bruce Davis

DANDE nano-satellite prior to packaging – Image credit Bruce Davis


DANDE stands for “Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer.” Measuring drag and neutral particles in the lower atmosphere between 325-400 kilometers, DANDE will be measuring real time density, quantifying variations in altitude and over time, as well as providing in-situ model calibration data. The satellite is a low-cost density, wind, and composition measuring instruments that will provide data for the calibration and validation of operational models and improve our understanding of the thermosphere. Weighing approximately 45 kg, DANDE is classified as a nano-satellite that is about 18 inches in diameter.

The Colorado Space Grant Consortium (COSGC) has housed the project for approximately 7 years, in which about 150 students have been a part of the project through initial concept and design, to the current team of mission operators. There are two instruments on board which allow DANDE to make in-situ measurements rather than being passive or only carrying accelerometers. The subsystem ACC (Accelerometers) contains 6 accelerometer heads arranged in a circle which were built in-house. The NMS subsystem (Neutral Mass Spectrometer) also known as Wind and Temperature Spectrometer will survey the variety and quantity of numerous neutral particles in the Thermosphere. This data will be particularly interesting during periods of high
solar activity do to atmospheric effects seen at these times in the polar regions of Earth.

DANDE Telemetry System Information:
Beacon Downlink Frequency: 436.75 MHz FM
Callsign: dandecosgc
Data Rate: 9600 baud
Modulation: FSK
Transmit Interval: every 15 seconds
RF Power Output: 0.75 W
Antenna Polarization: linear

DANDE Beacon Portal
Bruce Davis Project Dande Blog

CUSat - Image credit Cornell University

CUSat – Image credit Cornell University


CUSat is a multi-year effort to design, build, and launch an autonomous in-orbit inspection satellite system. The satellite will allow us test the accuracy and viability of the carrier-phase differential GPS (CDGPS) algorithm. We hope to prove the algorithm accurate to less than 10 cm  by comparing the CDGPS navigation solution to the known distance between GPS antennas. CUSat will use this relative GPS information to help determine and control its attitude. This is the first step towards having a multi-satellite system use the CDGPS algorithm to aid in autonomous inspection. CUSat is the winner of the University Nanosat-4 Program which aims to educate the future aerospace workforce and develop new space technologies.

CUSat Telemetry Information:
Beacon Downlink Frequency: 437.405 MHz FM
Callsign: BOTTOM
Data Rate: 1200 baud
Modulation: AFSK
Transmit Interval: every 1 minute
RF Power Output: 2.2 W
Antenna Polarization: circular

CUSat docs
CUSat Pulse Plasma Thruster Satellites Video

Press Kit released by SpaceX

Dmitry Pashkov UB4UAD website

Falcon 9 Explosion – Update

[Thanks to ANS, Miranda Link, SpaceFlightNow and Mineo Wakita JE9PEL for the above information]