AeroCube-15 Satellites

Satellite AeroCube-15
Type CubeSat
Units or mass 3U
Mass in kg 3.7 kg
Organization Aerospace Corporation
Institution Non-profit
Entity Government (Civil / Military)
Headquarters US
Partners U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center
Costs $4.1 million for the whole program.

Payload consists of a custom-designed telescope combined with a commercially available camera core.


Demonstrate rapid development of a small size, weight and power (SWAP), low cost optical sensor in low earth orbit. The payload consists of a custom-designed telescope combined with a commercially available camera core. Observing cloud backgrounds and ground targets to research the capabilities of commercially derived technology for space mission applications. Aerospace had to further modify commercial parts or design their own when off-the-shelf parts, like a commercial infrared lens, didn’t meet performance needs.


At present, the program has focused on calibrating the CubeSats’ sensors and observation tasking has been minimal.

Careful preparation of both an on-orbit spacecraft test plan and flight experiment plan allowed the first year of operations, described in our second paper, to fulfill the program’s requirements for success.2 Calibration of the visible and infrared sensors using bright standard stars was demonstrated. Laser pointing was aligned on orbit between spacecraft to speed up laser communications operations. A novel 1.4µm SWIR band was characterized for Earth observation for the first time. The ability of the SWIR sensor to observe gas flares, terrestrial and cloud backgrounds, rockets, severe weather, wildfires other IR targets was accomplished. Initial stereo observations were also carried out along with other spacecraft ConOps. A data pipeline was finalized which processed the Rogue-a,b sensor data and associated metadata into convenient standard formats for exploitation.

We were able to continue operations beyond one year, and an extended operations plan was pursued. The next year on-orbit focused on adding to our observations of space launches, additional IR targets and backgrounds. Sensor settings were honed to better reveal wildfire activity in the 1.4µm SWIR band as well as to obtain multiple, well-exposed multi-minute orbital data sets on storms and Earth backgrounds. Unique staring sensor data were acquired for large wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadic thunderstorms. Nighttime sensor data were collected, including from our narrow-field-of-view star sensor. We described highlights from these environmental observations in our third paper.3 Additional rocket observations gathered during this second year of operations were not fully analyzed and published until this paper.

Our focus shifted to data exploitation in our final year of spacecraft operations. We continued collecting data with an emphasis on rocket observations, especially daytime observations, for which opportunities had previously been elusive. We eventually succeeded in observing several launches under daylit conditions. Our entire rocket observation experiment series is described in this paper, showing our successes in tracking Falcon 9, Soyuz, Long March, and Atlas V space launches from different types of orbital geometries against Earth and space backgrounds. Data from both the rocket experiments, and the environmental observations, were used to study a variety of detection algorithms, and used to develop pointing-based and image-based registration approaches for deeper analysis.

Operations continued until the failure of Rogue-Betas’s onboard flash memory storage card on November 30, 2022, and the reentry of Rogue-Alpha on February 7, 2023 (Rogue Beta reentered on February 10, 2023).

Sources [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]
Photo sources [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
Keywords Laser transmitter
Space photos AeroCube-15


Related Spacecraft

Satellite Status Rocket Launch date Orbit
AeroCube-15A (Rogue Alpha) Reentry 2023-02-07. Was operational (Smallsat 2023 paper) Antares, (ELaNa 25), (NG-12) 2019-11-02 460 km, 51.6 deg, Cygnus
AeroCube-15B (Rogue Beta) Reentry 2023-02-10. Was operational until 2022-11-30 (SD card failed as per Smallsat 2023 paper) Antares, (ELaNa 25), (NG-12) 2019-11-02 460 km, 51.6 deg, Cygnus

Last modified: 2024-05-30

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