New Satellite developed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory

MIT Lincoln Cleanroom Laboratory Produces New Satellite

New ORS-5 SensorSat satellite developed at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory is fulfilling a critical need for situational awareness in space.

On August 26th, a Minotaur rocket was launched hosting a satellite that was developed by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. The satellite was launched into low Earth orbit on behalf of the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office.

The new satellite, ORS-5 SensorSat spacecraft has begun it’s 3-year mission, scanning the geosynchronous belt continuously. The new ORS-5 SensorSat spacecraft will reside about 36,000 kilometers above the Earth. This area of the atmosphere is home to many satellites that are a necessity to the national economy and security. The new SensorSat will collect data that will help the United States to monitor the movements of satellites and space debris.

“SensorSat is essentially a simple design, but it is a highly sensitive instrument that is one-tenth the size and one-tenth the cost of today’s large satellites,”

Grant Stokes, head of MIT Lincoln Laboratory Space Systems and Technology Division

In the first couple of months that the SensorSat has been in orbit, the new satellite has completed a full checkout process, opening the cover of its optical system and collecting the first images of objects in the geosynchronous belt. The early imagery that was captured proves that the optical system is highly capable of satisfying the requirements of the mission, with high quality imaging. The new satellite uses a smaller aperture making it very cost effective and a quicker build. The SensorSat is only 226 pounds, which is far smaller than other satellites in the geosynchronous belt.

Unlike the large satellites that are in orbit, the SensorSat has a fixed optical system which surveys each portion of the geosynchronous belt, establishing large images as the satellite orbits the Earth. The satellite sits directly above the equator, orbits at an inclination of zero degrees, making approximately 14 passes around Earth each day. As the SensorSat travels, it creates up-to-date images of the activity in the belt, providing a constant surveillance to the space surrounding its current location and detecting threats to other satellites within the geosynchronous belt.

The SensorSat satellite was assembled and tested in a cleanroom facility and an Engineering Test Laboratory at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Strict protocols of environmental control are necessary in these cleanroom and laboratory environments, allowing the team to achieve validation, testing and certification. These environments were host to the testing that was necessary to validate that the satellite could withstand the expected space conditions, including but not limited to: shock, vibration, attitude control system, and thermal-vacuum testing

“Perhaps the most important events occurred during thermal-vacuum testing. The satellite is exposed to conditions similar to those on orbit, and we used that test to validate our thermal design. Even more important, the thermal-vacuum test enabled us to get significant runtime on the avionics and components within the spacecraft, emulating the communication cadence and data streams that we would eventually see on orbit.”

Mark Bury, assistant leader of the Laboratory’s Structural and Thermal-Fluids Engineering Group

Prior to launch, SensorSat was moved to Florida to be installed on the Orbital ATK’s Minotaur IV within a large clean room facility at Astrotech Space Operations, located near the Kennedy Space Center. Final assembly was conducted by the team from the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the satellite was prepared with the final software uploads necessary for orbit.

To learn more about the SensorSat satellite and to follow news on its productivity, please visit the MIT Website


About Columbia Palletizing

ORS-5, also known as SensorSat, is a single satellite constellation with a primary mission to provide space situational awareness. It measures about five feet long, two and a half feet wide, and weighs about 250 pounds. It will operate from a low, zero inclination orbit approximately 372 miles above the earth to aid the U.S. military’s tracking of other satellites and space debris in geosynchronous orbit, 22,236 miles above the equator, commonly used by defense-related communications satellites, television broadcasting stations, and international space platforms.

The MIT Lincoln Laboratory engineering team stands in front of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)-5 satellite in the MIT LL clean room at the Lexington, Massachusetts facility, prior to shipment for final processing and stacking atop an Orbital ATK Minotaur IV launch vehicle at Launch Complex 46, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. From left to right: Joe Warfel – Assembly Technician; Michele Weatherwax – Mechanical Engineer; Al Pillsbury – Mechanical Engineer; Marshall Solomon – Thermal Engineer, and; Eui Lee – Thermal Engineer. (Courtesy photo: MIT LL)

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