PolarCube: An Advanced Radiometer 3U CubeSat

 Overview Pic

PolarCube Mission Statement

PolarCube will perform tropospheric temperature profiling to complement current weather models applicable to severe mesoscale weather phenomena. The technical applications for PolarCube include; Mesoscale weather research, storm cell observations, hurricane warm core behavior, terrestrial weather detection with 15-20km spatial resolution, and study of sea ice fractions in the Polar Regions. The secondary focus is an educational goal to integrate and fly a passive radiometer while working closely with science and engineering experts.


Approach and Spacecraft Information

The PolarCube project will integrate the MiniRad radiometer and the ALL-STAR bus and provide associated pre-launch testing and algorithm development. The first ALL-STAR bus (ALL-STAR/THEIA) has completed delivery and launched in April of 2014.  A space-qualified, compact version of the payload - the Miniaturized Microwave Radiometer (MiniRad) - has been designed and fabricated to a preliminary level by a senior capstone design project of CU engineering undergraduates. Currenly, the PolarCube team has integrated MiniRad as a critical subsystem of the PolarCube spacecraft. MiniRad is a passive microwave spectrometer with eight channels centered around the 118.7503 GHz diatomic oxygen emission line. Although well studied during many aircraft experiments dating back three decades, a spectrometer operating over this band has never before been flown in space.

PC SpaceCraft

PolarCube Spacecraft

Mission Collaborators

PolarCube is being developed in collaboration with the Center for Environmental Technologies (CET), the Colorado Space Grant Consortium (COSGC), and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). PolarCube is also a competitor of the University Nanosat Program (UNP) Eigth Cycle and has successfully complete Phase A culminating in additional launch and testing support by the Air Force Research Labs (AFRL).

PolarCube is a collaboration of three University of Colorado at Boulder groups:


Mission Applications

PolarCube will be one of the first 3U CubeSats capable of remote sensing from a low Earth orbit platform. An on-board radiometer instrument using the 118.7503 GHz diatomic oxygen resonance will provide measurements of thermal atmosphere emissions within the troposphere (0-20 km). These measurements will extend understanding of the processes that govern estimated weather, global water, and energy fluxes (temperature, moisture, precipitation, cloud water and ice). PolarCube's collaboration with the COSGC ALL-STAR 3U CubeSat allows ~10-20 km spatial resolution of the Earth's surface for approximately 1yr. PolarCube will be capable of providing research data for polar, weather, and heat detection studies with no sensitivity to clouds.

Polar Heat Detection Weather

Perform observation of sea ice/open ocean boundaries: Critical effect on troposphere in polar regions, Summer/Fall Arctic ice retreat, moisture heat flux/storage

Cloud penetrating thermal imaging: Heat detection through cloud Cover.

Providing representative data inputs to tropospheric weather models applicable to severe mesoscale weather phenomena: High resolution/real-time warm core behavior of hurricanes/mesoscale weather.

Aug-Sept-Oct Sea Ice
Concentration Prediction

Heat detection of a forest fire
(October 2007)

Hurricane Sandy Image taken by NOAA
(October 2012)

PolarCube Team

PolarCube is a student lead and study design project at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The team is made up of an interdisciplinary team of undergradutes and gradute studetns resonsible for development, testing, integration, and delivery of the complete satellite. PolarCube has leveraged flight herative and satellite fabriaction knowledge from various CubeSat and NanoSat projects at the Colorado Space Grant Consortium including HERMES (1U CubeSat), DANDE (ESPA class NanoSat), and ALL-STAR/THIEA (3U CubeSat). The student team also works closely with mentors and alumni including mentors from JPL, LockHeed, First RF, NSIDC, CET, Ball Aerospace, and many other local companies. 

PC Team

PolarCube Team 2015 - UN8 Fligth Competition Review


Applicable Mission Arcticles

For additional information on the PolarCube mission refer to the following documents below:


IARU Applicable Documents


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