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  • Satellite Evolution

Los Alamos National Laboratory awards satellite mission contract to NanoAvionics US

Smallsat mission integrator NanoAvionics US has received a mission contract by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world. The 12U (1U equals 10×10×10cm3) spacecraft, about the size of a microwave oven, will host the Mini Astrophysical MeV Background Observatory (MAMBO) mission.

The goal of MAMBO is to make the best-ever measurement of the cosmic diffuse gamma-ray (CDG) background using its on-board, innovative gamma-ray detector. This will be the first satellite mission hosting a high-energy astrophysics payload developed by LANL in 20 years. The MAMBO detector utilizes Bismuth Germanate (BGO) scintillator detectors and silicon photo-multiplier (SiPM) light sensors arranged in a unique shielding configuration to achieve highly sensitive gamma-ray sensing from low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Peter Bloser, MAMBO Project Leader at LANL said: “By flying in LEO on a low-mass nanosatellite and using our innovative shielding configuration for the gamma-ray detector, MAMBO will achieve an order-of-magnitude lower background noise than previous instruments. This will allow us to improve previous measurements by COMPTEL and SMM, which suffered from large systematic errors due to immense instrumental background.”

To fit the MAMBO payload into the host spacecraft, NanoAvionics will customize one of its 12U modular buses by making some mechanical and components arrangements before assembling the nanosatellite. To operate the satellite while in orbit, Los Alamos has purchased NanoAvionics’ mission control software, capable of handling multiple satellite missions and compatible with all major commercial ground station providers with antennas in over 200 locations around the globe. For all other mission-related aspects, NanoAvionics will take an advisory role supporting the team at Los Alamos with integration, launch, and operations.

Markus Hehlen, Senior Project Leader for Agile Space at LANL said: “NanoAvionics allows LANL to leverage recent commercial options for nanosatellites and global ground station networks. Standardizing delivery and operational platforms across multiple missions will enable LANL to bring cutting-edge solutions from the drawing board to on-orbit operations faster, cheaper, and more reliably for a range of government customers.”

F. Brent Abbott, CEO NanoAvionics US, said: “Being selected for this historic science mission by Los Alamos shows the quality of our satellites, sub-systems and mission services. It also demonstrates the enormous potential that nanosatellites have for the research and science community. This latest science mission follows our previous fundamental research mission contracts with NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).”

The measurement of the CDG background in the difficult 'mega electron-volt' (MeV) energy band by the MAMBO mission will help differentiate and clarify the evolution of nuclear (e.g., supernovae) versus accretion (e.g., active galactic nuclei) processes over the history of the Universe. Los Alamos was already part of NASA’s successful Swift and Fermi missions which detected record-setting gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) from distant galactic explosions.

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