Blue Canyon Technologies 6U Spacecraft Deploys as Part of the Deformable Mirror Demonstration Mission


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Rapidly growing spacecraft manufacturer and space mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies announced that its 6U spacecraft built for a DARPA-sponsored project managed by Aurora Flight Sciences with a payload developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was successfully deployed by NanoRacks from the International Space Station in mid-July. The Deformable Mirror Demonstration Mission (DeMi) is a technology demonstration using a Boston Micromachines microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) deformable mirror (DM).

The objective of DeMi is to demonstrate using MEMS deformable mirror technology for adaptive optics in space. The MEMS DMs can be used for a range of in-space applications, including optical communication and wide-field scanning telescopes.

Aurora Flight Sciences awarded the contract to BCT to build and test the new 6U-class CubeSat bus used for the DeMi mission. BCT’s 6U spacecraft is a high-performance CubeSat that includes an ultra-precise attitude control system that allows for accurate knowledge and fine-pointing of the satellite payload. The highly integrated design also maximizes payload volume.

While other single micro-mirror optical MEMS components have been used in the past, MEMS DMs have a higher actuator density and lower size and weight compared to other designs, which makes them more resilient, allows for easier accommodation in spacecraft, and can result in better image quality.

“Aurora Flight Sciences and MIT are utilizing new-space to bring new technologies to the larger space community and Blue Canyon is proud to have provided the bus for the DeMi mission,” said Steve Stem, Spacecraft Systems Engineer for Blue Canyon Technologies.

“Working with BCT to provide the DeMi spacecraft bus allowed MIT to focus on the design and implementation of the science payload,” said Rachel Morgan, one of the mission’s lead graduate research assistants. “The DeMi mission is an exciting example of using CubeSats to demonstrate new technologies for future space telescopes, and the Aurora/MIT team is very excited to start getting science results from the payload in space,” said Dr. Ewan Douglas, a research affiliate of MIT AeroAstro and Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona.

Specifically, the DeMi Mission will help determine the functionality of MEMS DMs on-orbit, and to characterize their behavior in microgravity. MEMS DMs are already commonly used in ground-based telescope adaptive optics systems.

The DM devices will need to withstand radiation effects, spacecraft charging, long-term temperature cycling, and extended operation in vacuum, many of which are difficult to replicate in a lab environment. This low-earth orbit (LEO) mission will validate the technology, as well as provide risk reduction for development of flight software, wavefront sensing and control algorithms, electronics hardware, and mechanical packaging needed to operate a MEMS DM in space.

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