Dynamic Ionosphere Cubesat Experiment

DICE launched Oct. 28, 2011, and is now mapping geomagnetic Storm Enhanced Density (SED) plasma bulge and plume formations in Earth’s ionosphere. Two identical spinning spacecraft measure plasma density and electric fields to determine the how and why of variations in ionospheric plasma density that affect the performance of communications, surveillance, and navigation systems on earth and in space.

A collaborative effort funded by NSF, the DICE program pulls together talent from multiple sources: scientists, engineers, students, and program specialists.

Principal Investigator Geoff Crowley is CEO of ASTRA (Atmospheric & Space Technology Research Associates, LLC, Texas) and a research professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Deputy PI Charles Swenson teaches electrical and computer engineering at Utah State University, where he directs the Center for Space Engineering, and is a senior scientist at SDL.

Co-PI Aroh Barjatya teaches physical sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University—he and his students calibrated the payload.

Utah State University students spearheaded the design, build and test of the dual satellite system.

The students, engineers and scientists solved questions common to all satellite designers—how much room and how much mass; how to communicate among parts of the spacecraft and between the ground-based support and the satellite; how to fold the instruments into a compact package for launch and then deploy them without spinning the craft off-center; how to preserve the satellite and its instruments from the extreme temperatures and radiation in space; how to power the whole satellite; how to build in a safety margin, and more.

The team readied two CubeSat pico-satellites (10 x 10 x 15 cm each) for the October, 2011, launch.

Clemson University students are analyzing the data produced while the satellites are on orbit.  

After launch, the spacecraft formed a mini-constellation, one spacecraft trailing within 200 kilometers of the other. Each spacecraft carries an electric field probe, two Langmuir probes, and science-grade magnetometer. These instruments perform co-located measurements of plasma density and the electric field to trace the formation and evolutions of SEDS.

Magnetic storms are part of space weather, which refers to conditions in space that can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems.

Ionospheric variability has a particularly dramatic effect on radio frequency systems. Some of the largest gradients are found on the edges of SED features, which regularly occur over the United States in the afternoon during magnetic disturbances. These ionospheric features need to be better characterized and understood.

DICE is the mission to provide new measurements of SED features and insight into what causes them.