The Electron Losses and Fields Investigation (ELFIN) mission is a space weather mission using three scientific instruments in a 3U+ CubeSat form factor. 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 were developed by UCLA staff at the Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) and the Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences department (EPSS). ELFIN will explore the key mechanisms responsible for the loss of relativistic electrons from the radiation belts and will provide a unique perspective into modeling and predicting Earth’s radiation environment. ELFIN will spin like a hammer spinning head over handle every 3 seconds to be able to capture the full range of electron pitch angles.
The ELFIN-STAR (Spatio-Temporal Ambiguity Resolution) option was awarded and executed in November 2017, which added an additional identical CubeSat. Having two satellites will help us build a more precise picture of electron behavior.
The ELFIN team is made up of around 40 UCLA undergraduates, with a few graduate students and three staff members serving in mentorship roles. Students take responsibility as subsystem leads and the vast majority of the spacecraft are designed, manufactured, and tested in-house. Students get experience in a real-life engineering environment and interact with multiple disciplines to accomplish project goals. The experience is invaluable for their future careers, as nearly 250 students have passed through the project since its inception in 2009. They have formed a powerful alumni network with ELFINers in various technical industries. ELFIN 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 spacecraft to be built, managed, and operateraded by UCLA.
Many thanks to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which has manifested both ELFIN and its twin ELFIN-STAR on the ELaNa-XVIII. ELFIN will be riding alongside NASA’s ICESat-2 in September 2018 on the last Delta II launch vehicle.
A flight shortly after delivery places ELFIN in the phase of solar minimum. 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.
ELFIN is funded jointly by the NSF and NASA CubeSat programs and has been a participant in the NS-8 round of AFRL’s University Nanosatellite Program.
Additional 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.