FIREBIRD Spacecraft

Two identical 1.5U (10 x 10 x 15cm) CubeSat spacecraft, each weighing up to 2 kg., will be placed into a common high-inclination bead-on-a-string orbit. Each satellite will carry a two solid-state detector charged particle sensors with different geometric factors optimized to cover electron measurements over the energy range from 0.25 to ~1 MeV in six differential energy channels.

Detectors are read out by a custom application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), designed by The Aerospace Corporation, called the Dual Amplifier Pulse Peak Energy Rundown ASIC. Onboard memory stores fast sample observations needed to resolve spatial structure; survey observations identify times of interest to download the highest temporal resolution data within the limited telemetry stream. While all data from the instruments are saved on board for ~4 weeks, FIREBIRD telemeters a reduced event identification data product to the ground each day in order to select particular intervals with microbursts to download for scientific analysis. The satellites will remain within ~400 km of one another for up to four months, allowing characterization over the spatial scale regime from 10-300 km.

A computer aided design drawing of a FIREBIRD satellite.

FIREBIRD Schematic

A computer aided design drawing of a FIREBIRD satellite. CubeSat standards specify a 10 x 10 x 10cm cube as 1U. Each FIREBIRD is a 1.5U structure; the upper 1/2U is the sensor assembly (FIRE) developed by Univ. of N.H.; the bottom 1U is the spacecraft bus (BIRD) developed by Montana State Univ.

A black and silver Engineering model of a single FIREBIRD satellite.

Sensor Assembly

An Engineering model of a single FIREBIRD satellite. The sensor assembly detector apertures are seen on top.

Hand holding a green single engineering unit sensor assembly


A single engineering unit sensor assembly. The sensor assembly houses two solid-state detectors, one (bottom right corner) collimated and the other (top left corner) uncollimated.


Implementation Responsibilities


Satellite bus and subsystems 

Integration and testing 

Tracking, command and telemetry from MSU ground station

Science analysis and publication of results


Payload design and development

Science operations center 

Science analysis and publication of results

Aerospace Corp

Sensor development assistance

Sensor calibration assistance

Industry internship(s) for students