Climate CubeSat Co-Building (C3)
The Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative is driven by an effort to democratize the future of space exploration. As such, we are committed to the development of meaningful community engagement endeavors related to achieving an open and hackable "New Space Age."
Rigorous investigation of Earth’s changing climate by satellite technology will benefit from more equitable access to currently hard-to-reach tools. Cube satellites (cubesats), originally developed for educational settings, have emerged as potent devices for remote sensing in the climate science sector. In general, these spacecrafts are assembled using cost-effective, commercially available off-the-shelf components (COTS), and therefore are more readily accessible than traditional satellite technology.
The Space Exploration Initiative is driven to foster the development of accessible and hands-on learning opportunities for diverse populations in multiple formats, and in particular for space tinkerers, hackers, and enthusiasts. In line with this notion, and inspired by MIT's Vice President for Research, Dr. Maria T. Zuber, and NASA’s 50 CubeSats, 50 States initiative, we developed the Climate CubeSat Co-Build (C3) program in partnership with MIT AeroAstro and Lincoln Laboratory: a multi-tiered outreach platform which aims to enable learning communities—classrooms, cities, and public libraries—nationally and internationally, to gain technical literacy in fundamental principles of climate science, small spacecraft engineering, and data analysis in a highly collaborative setting.
As the flagship element of this program, we are working with a cohort of 20 Boston-area high school students, primarily from underrepresented minority communities, who will pioneer the development of a 3U cubesat with climate-sensing capabilities. Through the C3 curriculum, co-builders interface with local experts to manage and execute the build of an engineering cubesat model, including payload development, model testing, and subsequent analysis and iteration. The resulting “BeaverCube,” capable of gathering cloud top and ocean infrared data, will serve as a standardized model suitable for modification and deployment by high school classrooms across the globe. Our pilot curriculum, which drew students from J.D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science (Roxbury) and the Clay Center for Science and Technology (Brookline), concluded in spring 2019, and resulted in the development of a 3U demosat capable of visible and infrared imaging, which we are currently preparing for testing on a high-altitude weather balloon.
Space Explorations in Public Libraries
To broaden the reach of C3 programming, we are working collaboratively with public librarians—as part of the ML Learning Initiative's project, the Public Library Innovation Exchange (PLIX)—to develop curricula for technical literacy, grounded in creative learning principles, for interested communities. We launched Space Explorations in the spring of 2019 with library patrons in Charlotte, North Carolina and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and are actively building a more robust global community of librarians seeking to bring elements of small spacecraft and mission design, space environments, and data literacy to their hometowns. Our use of an online community publishing platform (c3.pubpub.org) for these collaborations not only serves as a repository for lecture materials and workshop ideas, but also enables diverse learning communities to share data, experiences, successes, and failures in the learning process.
LEGOSats for Playful Spacecraft Prototyping
Our final mode of engagement involves the ongoing prototyping of “LEGOSat” kits—demo cubesat units which help facilitate the development of systems-level thinking, while leveraging the low-cost, modularity, and playful interface of LEGOs. Kits will consist of a standardized set of mostly COTS parts that can be customized by the builder (primarily the LEGO hardware shell). The 1U LEGOSat, for deployment on tethered mylar balloons, will be readily accessible for learning institutions with modest funding, and operate in a plug-and-play manner—making it more amenable for single-session workshops. The 3U version, in contrast, is likely to be built across multiple weekly sessions, is intended for older learners, and will require more advanced skills in hardware integration. Each LEGOSat will consist of a LEGO frame with an IR camera, a Raspberry Pi microcontroller, and a lightweight power source.
As young students are empowered to build their own cubesats and collect and analyze their own data, they will both be participating in something larger than themselves and learning about the health and future of our planet.
MIT Media Lab Learning Initiative & Public Library Innovation Exchange (PLIX)
MIT Lincoln Laboratory
MIT AeroAstro STAR Lab
Clay Center Amateur Radio Club
J.D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics & Science