Recent innovations in space technologies continue to open up new possibilities for exploring other planets, space bodies, and resources such as rock materials on asteroids and planets’ surfaces. Space agencies and expedition corporations fund projects that encourage the development of spacecraft, satellites, and other space equipment to pioneer state-of-the-art technologies that achieve humanity’s vision of inhabiting other planets such as Mars. Moreover, humankind plans to extract resources from space and analyze it to determine the usefulness of improving people’s lives on Earth.
Students, staff, members of different faculties, and volunteers from the University of Hawaiʻi developed the Neutron-1, a miniature satellite scheduled to launch on October 1. The Neutron-1 will board the ELaNa 31 during the Cygnus NG-14 resupply mission to the International Space Station. NASA plans to launch the Cygnus NG-14 from its launch site in Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. The Neutron-1 will determine the amounts of space neutrons during the launch mission, alongside Sun’s radiation’s intensity.
The data from measurements is vital for analyzing the space activities for more effective launch missions. Peter Englert, a researcher at Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, and Lloyd French, a researcher at Hawaiʻi Space Flight Laboratory, proposed the space science project. In the development and management of the Neutron-1 Space Mission, Englert is the principal investigator, while Lloyd is the project manager. Englert and Lloyd proposed the project in 2011 to study and analyze neutrons orbiting in space.
In 2012, the CubeSat Launch Initiative by NASA accepted the proposal for the space mission project. Englert and Lloyd formed a team to work on the project upon receiving the endorsement from the agency. In 2015, other institutions partnered with the University of Hawaiʻi through the RockSat-X mission during the mission’s developmental stage. Learning and research institutions include the Kapiʻolani Community College, the Kauaʻi Community College, the Honolulu Community College, and the Windward Community College.
A community, college innovation program, known as Project IMUA, brought together different researchers who developed a neutron detector with functioning capabilities. However, a trial suborbital launch mission lost the sensor during its inauguration from the launch location in Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. The program suffered a significant setback until Arizona State University joined the project partnership in 2018, providing the team with its innovative neutron detector.
Amber Imai-Hong, the avionics engineer that coordinates the project’s ground-based mission control, said that the Neutron-1 mission is a miniature 3U CubeSat. The team from UH Mānoa’s HSFL developed the Neutron-1 by conducting rigorous testing processes for the proto-flight environment. The performance trials involve students from multi-departmental fields of computer science and engineering.
In summary, the bread loaf-size Satellite will collect data that will provide information for understanding the inter-relationship between the Sun and planet Earth by studying the locations of neutrons in Earth’s lower orbital path.