Systems Engineering Seminar

NASA IceCube: CubeSat Prototyping of a 883-GHz Radiometer for Cloud Ice Mapping

Presented by:
Jaime Esper, Code 592

Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Building 3 Auditorium


On April 18, 2017, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's IceCube 3U CubeSat was launched by an ATLAS V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station onboard a Cygnus resupply spacecraft, as part of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative. Onboard IceCube was an 883 GHz radiometer tuned to detecting ice content in clouds, marking the first time such frequency was used from low-Earth orbit. IceCube successfully demonstrated retrieval of ice water path, generating the first-ever global cloud ice map at 883 GHz. Its success provides valuable lessons on how to approach a severely resource-limited space mission and provides great insight into how this experience can be applied to future high-risk, "non-class" missions for NASA and others. IceCube marks the first official NASA Earth Science CubeSat technology demonstration mission. The spacecraft was completed in about 2.5 years starting April 2014 through launch provider delivery in December of 2016. The mission was jointly funded by NASA's Earth Science Technology Office, after competitive selection, and by NASA's Earth Science Directorate. IceCube began its technology demonstration mission in June 2017, providing a pathway to advancing the understanding of ice clouds and their role in climate models; quite a tall order for a tiny spacecraft.


Dr. Jaime Esper is a Senior Aerospace Technologist, Flight Systems Designer and Systems Engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). He is the former Chief Engineer of the NASA Space Geodesy Project, former Technical Project Manager of the IceCube Earth Science Mission, and current Principal Investigator in GSFC's CAPE/MIRCA, a Cubesat-sized planetary entry vehicle. Dr. Esper has extensive experience in areas covering advanced space science missions and system concepts, spacecraft systems and technologies, instrumentation, spacecraft design, space mission processing and operations, launch vehicle Range operations, and planetary mission and entry probe design, analysis, and technology development. Dr. Esper's interest in planetary exploration has centered in the design of mission technologies that enable cost-effective, focused investigations. He holds degrees in Physics (B.S.) and Astronomy (M.S.) from the University of Florida, Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering (M.S.) from The George Washington University, and Aerospace Engineering (Dr. - Eng.) from the University of Stuttgart in Germany. He is author of over 30 publications, and 1 patent (pending) on thermal protection system material, specifically designed for Titan entry vehicles. He is a full member of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).


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