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CubeSat constellations and swarms have been identified as a new paradigm for space-based measurements to address high-priority science questions in multiple disciplines. However, the full potential of CubeSat constellations and swarms for scientific studies has not yet been realized because of: i) the limitations of some of the existing key CubeSat technology, ii) knowledge gaps in the design and optimization of CubeSat technology for swarms and constellations, and iii) the increasing cost of more sophisticated CubeSat technology. The technology challenges include high bandwidth communications in CubeSat-to-CubeSat and CubeSat-to-ground scenarios, circuits and sensors miniaturization, on-board signal processing, and power generation. The vision of a satellite mission consisting of 10-100 CubeSats will require focused investment and development in a myriad of CubeSat-related technologies to build a cost-effective constellation or swarm of CubeSats. This will require transformative approaches for designing and building CubeSat subsystems and sensors, and innovative production approaches that will reduce the cost of implementing large-scale constellation missions. Spectrum allocations for data transmission and possible electromagnetic interference between or within constellations of CubeSats are issues that also will need to be considered.
This solicitation describes an Ideas Lab focused on CubeSat Innovations to push the envelope of space-based research capabilities by simultaneously developing enabling technologies in several domains, including propulsion systems, sensor design, electronic circuits, antennas, satellite-to-ground and satellite-to-satellite communications and wireless networking, and power management. The vision of this Ideas Lab is to support research and engineering technology development efforts that will lead to new science missions in geospace and atmospheric sciences using self-organizing CubeSat constellations/swarms. The resulting new crosscutting concepts in CubeSat technology are expected to transform and stimulate CubeSat-enabled science and engineering research supported by NSF. The realization of self-organizing CubeSats will also require innovative approaches in educating, training, and developing a cross-disciplinary workforce with the relevant expertise spanning propulsion systems, sensors, circuits, antennas, wireless communications and networking, radio-frequency interference issues, and power management. It is anticipated that these innovations in CubeSat technology and education will enable new mission concepts for Cube-Sat based science investigations.
Transformation in CubeSat technology will also enable science missions that can support the NSF's 10 Big Ideas, such as Navigating the New Arctic by delivering multi-point Earth observations using CubeSat constellations; Windows on the Universe: The Era of Multi-Messenger Astrophysics by developing targeted CubeSat missions to support ground-based facilities, such as the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope or the Global Oscillation Network Group; Harnessing the Data Revolution by supporting the integration of CubeSats into the Internet of Things; NSF INCLUDES by broadening the participation among under-represented groups in STEM research and education; and NSF 2026: Seeding Innovation and Growing Convergent Research at NSF by supporting out-of-the-box innovations necessitated and cultivated by the cross-disciplinary nature of CubeSats.
An Ideas Lab is an intensive meeting that brings together multiple diverse perspectives to focus on finding innovative cross-disciplinary solutions to a grand challenge problem. The ultimate aim of this Ideas Lab is to develop cutting edge CubeSat technologies that will enable a constellation/swarm of 10-100 satellites and transform space-based science investigations. The aspiration is that bringing together researchers from diverse scientific and engineering backgrounds will stimulate fresh thinking and innovative approaches that will provide a fertile ground for new and bold ideas on the design and fabrication of CubeSat sensors and circuits, antennas, inter-satellite and satellite-to-ground communications and networking, and innovative CubeSat missions. The goal is to form teams of scientists and engineers, who are experts in their respective domains, to come together and form interdisciplinary teams that will develop innovative and transformative ideas that will eventually be submitted as full proposals to address the challenges of building a CubeSat constellation/swarm of 10-100 CubeSats.
This Ideas Lab is organized by the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS) in the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO), the Division of Computer and Network Systems (CNS) in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), and the Division of Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems (ECCS) and the Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC) in the Directorate for Engineering (ENG).
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