ARMADILLO, or Atmospheric Related Measurements of Sub-Millimeter Debris in Low Earth Orbit, is one of the TSL’s current missions. Working as part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s University Nanosatellite Program and NASA’s ELaNa (Educational Launch of Satellites) program, the mission aims to research and characterize the space debris environment in low-earth orbit.
The satellite (constructed and operated by the TSL) also aims to probe ionospheric activity using the GPS radio occultation technique, as well as facilitate laser ranging experiments conducted by NASA at their Ames Research Center. The spacecraft is slated to launch on the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy.
Primary Payload: Piezoelectric Dust Detector (PDD)
The PDD was designed and built by Baylor University’s Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER) and is intended to characterize the space debris environment, focusing on sub-millimeter debris that cannot be tracked by Earth-based telescopes. The PDD consists of nine lead-zirconate-titanate (PZT) plates arranged in a grid that collectively comprise the Main Detector Unit (MDU). The collision of space debris with these plates causes deformations in the plates proportional to the impact energy of the collision and produces an electric charge as a result of the piezoelectric effect. The PDD therefore measures the voltage generated by impacts and allows us to retroactively predict the impact energy of collisions and determine the size and velocity of the particles that collide with the spacecraft.
The MDU occupies an entire face of the spacecraft and will be pointed in the direction of the velocity vector during experimentation to detect collisions. The Secondary Detection Unit (SDU) consists of only one PZT plate and is located orthogonal to the MDU, pointing towards deep space and aiding in calibration.
(Credit: Baylor University CASPER)
Secondary Payload: Fast, Orbital, TEC, Observables, and Navigation GPS Receiver (FOTON)
The FOTON—a miniaturized, dual-frequency, software-defined GPS receiver designed specifically for space applications—was built by the University of Texas at Austin’s Radionavigation Laboratory. The payload has two roles: it is a low-cost, low-mass, high-quality GPS receiver that allows ARMADILLO to determine its position, and it functions as a science instrument, performing GPS radio occultation experiments in order to measure atmospheric properties. Successful occultations will allow the Radionavigation Laboratory to monitor and predict space weather.
(Credit: Lidia Cucurull, “GPS Radio Occultation Data Assimilation”, NOAA, June 2010)
Tertiary Payload: Retroreflector
The third science payload is a passive instrument: a retroreflector provided to the TSL by the NASA Ames Research Center. Operators in the TSL will point the spacecraft towards a station on the ground in order to conduct laser ranging experiments.