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Performing Dual Frequency Ionospheric Calibration Measurements

Ionization Sky High

PropCube 2 is the third of three PropCube satellites developed by the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), flying under the Propagation CubeSat series to study artificial ionization in Earth’s ionosphere. Developed by the NPS, the satellites use a commercial 1U CubeSat platform provided by Terran Orbital integrated with purpose-built sensors to measure ionospheric electron density and irregularities.​

PropCubes 1 and 3, going by the nicknames of Flora and Merryweather, were launched into a 500 x 800-Kilometer, 64° orbit as secondary payloads on an Atlas V rocket in October 2015, riding alongside the classified NROL-55 satellite of the National Reconnaissance Office. PropCube 2 (Fauna) launched aboard Antares-230 on an ISS resupply mission for NASA.

Featuring UHF and S-Band receivers, the satellites are tasked with measuring total ionospheric electron content, plasma irregularities by their amplitude and phase scintillations, and artificial ionospheric disturbances introduced by sending stimulations into the upper atmosphere by means of high-power radio pulses. According to the PropCube Project, artificial stimulation will be provided by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the Sura Ionospheric Heating Facility in Russia, and the HAARP facility in Alaska (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program).​






Naval Postgraduate School


1U Satellite

Launch Date

November 11, 2017

Launch Vehicle


Mission Length


Mission Completion



A medium-class launch vehicle, dubbed Antares (formerly Taurus II), to extend its family of small-class Pegasus, Taurus and Minotaur launchers. The Antares design adapts elements from these proven launch technologies along with hardware from one of the world’s leading launch vehicle integrators to provide low-cost and reliable access to space for civil, commercial and military Delta II-class payloads.

The first stage structure is manufactured by Ukrainian Yuzhnoe company and features two LOX and Kerosene fueled AJ26-62 (Americanized Russian NK-33) engines of N1/L3 heritage, built in the early 1970ies. The stage structure is based on the Zenit launch vehicle. The second stage is a Castor-30, which is based on a shortened Castor-120 solid rocket motor. A Castor-30A second stage helps propel the first two Antares-110 rockets into orbit, then a higher-performing Castor-30B motor was used with the Antares-120 on the third and fourth flights in 2013. On the fifth flight, the stretched Castor-30XL upper stage was introduced on the Antares-130. The optional third stage called BTS (Bi-Propellant Third Stage, formerly ORK, Orbit Raising Kit) is based on the propulsion system of Orbital’s Star-2 satellite bus. For high energy orbits a Star-48BV can be used as third stage.

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