Missions and Systems

A core part of the MXL effort is the development of novel flight vehicles and missions.  We fly what we build, and build what we research.  Below, we describe missions that are in operation, in development, in concept, and complete.  We have delivered nine satellites (RAX-1, RAX-2, Mcubed-1, MCubed-2, GRIFEX, CADRE, TBEx-A, TBEx-B, MARIO) to orbit and have delivered parts for several others (MarCO, SHIELDS, etc.).

Current Missions


The “Measurement of Actuator Response and Impedance on Orbit” CubeSat

MARIO (Measurement of Actuator Response and Impedance on Orbit) is a 3U CubeSat collaboration between MXL, Extreme Diagnostics, Michigan’s Active Intelligent and Multifunctional Structure (AIMS) Lab, and NASA. The mission objective is to characterize the performance of piezoelectric actuators and health monitoring systems in low Earth orbit conditions. Test data will help develop future advanced space mechanisms.

Launch: ISS deployment estimated DEC 2022

Status: Launched to ISS


Satellite Command and Control

MXL operates several ground stations on north campus and at Peach Mountain. We operate some of these stations as Satnogs nodes as well.

Our operations team supports our satellites, balloon flights, and other orbiting missions as well. Currently, the team is operating MARIO, GRIFEX, and MCUBED-2. They are also working on improving ground stations, related radio hardware, related software, and databases. Operations is the lifeblood of MXL!

Project Strato

Stratospheric Balloon Flights

Project Strato is the high altitude balloon division of MXL. Strato includes both undergraduate and graduate level students from various engineering departments at the University of Michigan. Mission goals include exploration of the stratosphere, new technology demonstrations, and public outreach.

Launches typically occur at the end of each semester and occasionally throughout summer.

Lear more about Project Strato, ballooning, and our ongoing efforts here.


GEO-CAPE ROIC In-Flight Performance Experiment

GRIFEX is a 3U CubeSat deployed to flight test novel imaging technology. It is a partnership between NASA ESTO, JPL, and MXL. GRIFEX was launched on 31 January 2015. It has completed its primary mission and is currently demo’ing secondary technologies and is being used to train students.

Launched: 01 JAN 2015, ELaNa-X

Status: Operational


The Michigan Multipurpose Minisat

MCubed-2 is a joint mission between MXL and JPL. Two satellites were funded by NASA ESTO to perform flight validation of a flight processor board carrying the Xilinx Virtex-5QV XQR5VX130T FPGA processor. MCubed-1 is operationally limited due to its docked status with the E1P CubeSat. MCubed-2 is fully operational and has completed its primary mission. It is currently an operations training satellite and technology testbed for MXL.

Launched: MC1 – 28 OCT 2011, MC2 – 06 DEC 2013.

Status: MC1 – Nonoperational, on orbit. MC2 – Operational

Past Missions

RAX-1, RAX-2

The Radio Explorer (RAX)

RAX was the first NSF-funded CubeSat mission and studied near Earth space weather. It was a bistatic radar experiment that where ground transmitters probed ionospheric plasma with high energy radar pulses and the RAX satellites received the scattering signals. The science PI was Dr. Hasan Bahcivan from SRI International. The satellites were developed by MXL. Two RAX satellites were built and launched: RAX-1 launched in November 2010 and RAX-2 launched in June 2011.


The CubeSat-investigating Atmospheric Density Response to Extreme driving

CADRE, was a 3U CubeSat funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study thermospheric neutral wind properties. The science PI was Dr. Aaron Ridley. It was a 3-axis stabilized mission with a payload from the Naval Research Labs and an experimental high speed radio. CADRE was deployed from ISS as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative in May 2016 but unfortunately no science goals were reached due to satellite failure. CADRE deorbited in 2017.


The Tri-band Beacon Explorer

TBEx consisted of a tandem pair of CubeSats, each carrying tri-frequency radio beacons, in near identical, low inclination orbits and a cluster of diagnostic sensors on five islands in the Central Pacific sector. TBEx was designed to study how the dynamics and processes in the troposphere can act to cause variability in the behavior of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. TBEx was developed by SRI International and MXL with funding from NASA. Launched JUNE 2019, deorbited in 2021.

MarCO (Wally and Eve)

Mars Cube One 

MarCO is a Mars flyby mission consisting of two nanosatellites (6U CubeSats), that is scheduled to launch in 2018 or later alongside NASA’s InSight Mars lander mission. MarcO will provide a communications link to Earth for InSight during mission-critical entry, descent, and landing when InSight will be out of sight from the Earth. MXL provided a power system and a flight computer for the MarCO satellites.

inspire image


The Interplanetary Nanospacecraft Pathfinder in a Relevant Environment

INSPIRE was built to demonstrate the revolutionary capability of deep space CubeSats by placing a nanosatellite in Earth-escape orbit. INSPIRE was funded by NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) as a collaboration between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Polytechnic-San Luis Obispo (CalPoly), Goldstone-Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Michigan (UMich), and University of Texas-Austin (UTexas). MXL developed the power system, one of the solar panels, and the flight computer. INSPIRE served as the precursor to MarCO and did not launch.