ELFIN is a spin-stabilized 3U+ CubeSat with a science mission to explore electron precipitation in the radiation belts. For more information on the science behind ELFIN’s mission, please see our science page. ELFIN spins like a hammer spinning head over handle to be able to resolve the full range of pitch angles.
The satellite is largely being developed by a student team with student leadership. It is currently in position to be UCLA’s first fully built satellite. While UCLA staff have provided instruments on other satellites in the past, this is the first project to combine UCLA instruments and a UCLA bus on the same spacecraft.
ELFIN is flying three different dedicated scientific instruments to be able to measure electron precipitation in the radiation belts. The spacecraft has two Energetic Particle Detectors, one for Electrons (EPD-E) and one for Ions (EPD-I), as well as a Fluxgate Magnetometer deployed at the end of a 75cm stacer boom. The science instruments are being developed by UCLA staff at the Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) and the Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences department (EPSS).
UCLA students are working on all subsystems, including Attitude Determination and Control, Communication, Command and Data Handling, Flight Software, Payload, Power, and Structures. The majority of the final spacecraft will be constructed in-house by UCLA students, with avionics and bus programming by UCLA students and structure fabrication in an in-house machine shop.
The project was recently a participant in the NS-8 round of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s University Nanosatellite Program and is being designed for a mid-2017 delivery date. A flight shortly after delivery would place ELFIN in the declining phase of the solar maximum. In order to measure energetic particle activity during at least one geomagnetic event, ELFIN has a minimum mission lifetime of three months. The nominal mission lifetime of six months would allow ELFIN to observe two storms based on the current best predictive models of solar activity. However, in order to allow for further insight into seasonal variations in the magnetosphere, demonstrate the reliability of spacecraft components, and provide a large margin to ensure mission success, ELFIN is being designed for a lifetime of two years.
Many thanks to Prof. Yuri Sprits, who proposed the original idea for the main ELFIN science objective in 2008. The ELFIN mission is a collaboration with the Aerospace Corporation.