3D render of IT-SPINS 3U CubeSat

Mission Overview

The Ionospheric-Thermospheric Scanning Photometer for Ion-Neutral Studies (IT-SPINS) mission proposes to provide the first two-dimensional (2D) tomographic imaging from a 3U research CubeSat, addressing the basic nature of the nocturnal ionosphere. This 6-month mission aims to strengthen our fundamental understanding for development of ion gradient structures in the topside of the Earth’s ionosphere and secondarily within regional phenomena such as equatorial plasma bubbles (EPBs) or polar patches. This mission could substantially improve our understanding of space weather, making future space operations safer and more efficient.

Click here to view a video about how the IT-SPINS satellite was engineered.

Deployed June 29, 2021 22:50:00 UTC

A video of IT-SPINS being lauched into orbit from Northrup Grumman's NG-15 spacecraft. Video footage courtesy of Northrup Grumman.

Spacecraft Overview

IT-SPINS is a 3U CubeSat, most noteably featuring a custom attitude control system and a CubeSat Tiny Ionospheric Photometer (CTIP) instrument to detect radiation emmisions in the ionosphere. These two systems will work in conjuction to precisely orient the spacecraft and take scientific samples.

Exploded view of IT-SPINS Spacecraft

Annotated exploded view of IT-SPINS spacecraft (left) and fully integrated IT-SPINS spacecraft (right).


Deployed in June 2021, IT-SPINS has experienced intermittent communication with the SSEL ground station. The spacecraft is able to beacon properly, allowing SSEL researchers to monitor its health and general status. However, commanding of IT-SPINS has proven to be difficult. Of the many commands sent out by the SSEL ground station, IT-SPINS has only shown a responsive action to a very small precentage. As a result, the spacecraft has yet to orient itself correctly and any science operations have been put on hold indefinitely.

In the time since IT-SPINS launched, the SSEL team has investigated probable causes of the poor reception of the spacecraft's UHF transiever. While it is difficult to know for certain, our findings have shown that the UHF radio possibly has a narrower width front-end than was observed on the ground during pre-flight tests, meaning the radio is effectively deaf. The same 1.5-kW amplifier used for HRBE, which also had reception problems, was re-installed in the SSEL ground station with the hope that an increased power output would compensate for the deafness. Alas, unlike HRBE, the amplifier did not improve IT-SPINS' reception capabilites. Running out of options, SSEL is hoping that further upgrades to the SSEL ground station, courtesy of the REAL mission, will provide the resources for a last-ditch effort to command IT-SPINS.

Additional Information