On April 15, 2019, MXL’s Project Strato launched its second iteration of the LED Initial Testing Experiment (LITE), a technology demonstration mission that aims to improve optical trackability of small satellites by equipping them with LEDs that can be seen from telescopes on the ground. A successful LITE mission shall gather dynamics and telemetry data on board and have its LED arrays be captured in photographs by telescopes on the ground.
The last flight was flown in May 2018, and its successful results prompted the development of a second mission. This time around, the bus was packaged into a 1U standard CubeSat form factor, the support structures were reconfigured for ease of assembly, bus electronics were refined, and telescope pointing algorithms received big upgrades. Here is the core 1U payload before being integrated with the rest of the vehicle:
LITE #2 was launched at 23:55 EDT from Kalamazoo, MI by a team of fourteen MXL members and guests. Back in Ann Arbor, two MXL members operated the CSRB ground station radios and assisted the Department of Astronomy to point the 0.4-m Angell Hall telescope. Special thanks goes to Professors Seitzer (UM Astronomy), Washabaugh (UM Aerospace), and Cutler (UM Aerospace) for their support during this flight.
The LITE #2 payload landed near Adrian, MI, just shy of its target landing zone. It became snagged at the top of three trees about 40 feet tall on a private property. Collaboration with the property owners allowed the team to assess the situation the next day.
Some issues with LITE’s on-board GPS made telescope tracking difficult, and evolving cloud cover over Ann Arbor during this period may have prevented the capture of the desired scientific data. The team will be looking through the telescope data shortly, and hopes to recover the engineering data on board the snagged payload in the next couple of days.
Other than these issues, the flight of LITE #2 was successful and exciting, even if the scientific results are found to be less than desired. Many lessons were learned, and the MXL team hopes to repair damage to the payload and add more GPS redundancy for a future attempt of the same experiment.