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Radar In A CubeSat

About The Mission

RainCube (Radar in a CubeSat) was a technology demonstration mission to enable Ka-band precipitation radar technologies on a low-cost, quick-turnaround platform. This mission demonstrated the first active radar on a CubeSat. Sponsored by NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO) through the InVEST-15 program, NASA/JPL developed a 35.75 GHz radar payload to operate within the 6U CubeSat form factor. The spacecraft was built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite, Inc., a Terran Orbital Corporation, and featured novel avionics and bus subsystems that extended the original 3-month mission to 29 months. This mission validated a new architecture for Ka-band radars, featuring an ultra-compact lightweight deployable parabolic reflector Ka-band antenna. This success raised the technology readiness level (TRL) of the radar and antenna from 4 to 7 within the three-year life of the program.

The project completed integration and testing in February 2018 and was delivered in March 2018. RainCube was delivered to the ISS on the OA-9 resupply mission that launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on May 21, 2018. After deploying from the ISS on July 13, 2018, RainCube performed nominally until the beginning of de-orbit on December 24, 2020.




Technology Demonstration




6U Satellite

Launch Date

May 21, 2018

Launch Vehicle


Mission Length

31 Months

Mission Completion

December 24, 2020


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 the 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 the third stage.

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