The Radio Aurora Explorer (or RAX) is the first CubeSat mission sponsored by the National Science Foundation to study space weather.
RAX is a joint venture between the University of Michigan and SRI International. Its primary mission objective is to study large plasma formations in the ionosphere, the highest region of our atmosphere. These plasma instabilities are known to spawn magnetic field-aligned irregularities (FAI), or dense plasma clouds known to disrupt communication between Earth and orbiting spacecraft.
To study FAI, the RAX mission will utilize a large incoherent scatter radar in Poker Flats, Alaska (known as PFISR). PFISR will transmit powerful radio signals into the plasma instabilities that will be scattered into space. During that time, the RAX spacecraft will be orbiting overhead and recording the scatter signals with an onboard receiver.
These signal recordings will be processed by an onboard computer and transmitted back to our ground stations where scientists will analyze them. The goal of this one-year science mission is to enhance our understanding of FAI formation so that short-term forecast models can be generated. This will aid spacecraft operators with planning their mission operations around periods of expected communication disruption.
Click here for more information on the RAX mission science.
Click here for a short video explaining what RAX CubeSats do in orbit.
|(Images © RAX Team unless otherwise noted)
(*RAX-1 image courtesy of T. Beck)