Innovation Day: Aerospace Exhibits

On March 21, 2017, Aerospace welcomed Starburst Accelerator, guests, and members of the media to the first Innovation Day at Aerospace. Visitors viewed pitches from aerospace startups as well as demonstrations and video of Aerospace work. Several of the Aerospace exhibits are described below.

Aerospace Exhibits for Starburst


Evan Ulrich holds an early prototype of the AeroSeed drone.

Looking at nature for inspiration, an Aerospace team is developing an unmanned aerial system (UAS) that borrows flight characteristics from winged maple seeds.

The small and inexpensive UAS, dubbed AeroSeed, has a number of advantages over current UAS technology, and could be used in a variety of fields.


The AeroCube-11 spectral satellite (also known as R3) is a multispectral, pushbroom imager that flies the Landsat-8 visible bands in a 3U package. It will demonstrate the utility of CubeSats to perform remote-sensing missions at a performance level comparable to that of larger spacecraft. The bus includes a 2.5-cm-diameter telescope paired with a visible-light sensor, 3-axis attitude control, 8 GB of image storage space, and a laser transmitter to downlink the images at a very high rate (up to 200Mbit/sec). The project began in mid-2014 and will be delivered in mid-2017, to be launched into a 500-km, 85-deg inclination circular orbit. With a ground sample resolution of 40 m and a field of view close to 50 km, the payload will produce data useful for agricultural and mineral surveys and coastal water quality monitoring, among other applications.


A weather balloon carrying a test version of Aerospace’s Mars lander bursts at 80,000 feet over the Nevada desert. (Photo: The Aerospace Corporation)

MarsDrop is a novel, low-cost architecture designed to deliver a miniaturized science payload to the technically challenging-to-reach regions of Mars, where one would otherwise not want to risk sending a multibillion dollar lander or rover. The Aerospace Corporation and JPL teamed together to create the concept, drawing on flight experience with small reentry systems (the Reentry Breakup Recorder and Deep Space 2, respectively), a subsonic deployment of a 1960s-era Rogallo steerable parawing glider, and the use of JPL’s Terrain Relative Navigation system to achieve pinpoint landing within tens of meters of one of several specified targets within a given landing ellipse. Aerospace has completed initial field testing of MarsDrop from high-altitude weather balloons (to simulate Mars atmospheric entry conditions) and demonstrated the ability to pack the parawing and deploy it at subsonic speeds in Martian conditions. MarsDrop could be flown to Mars as early as 2020 as a secondary payload to a larger Mars mission, with an estimated cost of 1-5% of the primary mission.

Innovative Propulsion Solution for Small Satellites 

Small satellite propulsion systems need to be compact, low power, and reliable to meet the satellite needs, but also low pressure and low hazard to meet launch requirements. Aerospace has invented a unique system that balances these requirements, and is using onsite resources to model and test the concept. By integrating this novel propulsion system onto an AeroCube small satellite platform, Aerospace is taking this concept all the way from conception to flight.

iLab Grand Opening Tour

Interactive Visualization Table Technology

Demonstrations shown on this newly-acquired technology include:

Enhanced CubeSat Design and Tracking

This demonstration is a replica of the AeroCube Operations Center, where the small satellites built by Aerospace are flown and monitored for health and status. The operations center has the ability to study and resdesign AeroCube-11 in realtime, and to view all CubeSats on orbit simultaneously. Ground track and calculations are done using SOAP, Aerospace’s orbit modeling and visualization tool.

3D Printed Rocket Propellants

The Aerospace Corporation created the field of 3D-Printed Rocket Propellants, introducing it to the world in 2011. Since then, the corporation has demonstrated dramatic improvements in hybrid rocket motor performance, increasing thrust and efficiency by printing the fuel. The corporation has maintained its leadership in the field by exploring several strategies for printing high-performance hybrid rocket motor fuel grains. Continuing research at Aerospace includes composite solid motors and fully liquid motors based on printed propellants. A video shows a time-lapse print that took less than three hours to print and is on display.

Van Allen Belt Tools for Study

MagEIS (Magnetnetic Electron-Ion Spectrometers) is a suite of eight energetic particle sensors designed and built by the Aerospace Space Science Applications Laboratory. It was launched onboard the NASA Van Allen Probes mission in 2012 to study Earth’s radiation belts. MagEIS is still operating and has produced data for more than 100 scientific publications.

REACH (Responsive Environmental Assessment Commercially Hosted) is a suite of Aerospace-patented radiation dosimeters deployed across the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation. The payload suite was designed by the Space Science Applications Laboratory and built on contract with the support of the SMC/XR program office. REACH will provide global coverage of the radiation dose seen by spacecraft in low Earth orbit.


Aerospace is building an unmanned and autonomous system (UAS) remote-sensing collection capability, which will enable affordable overhead imaging and sensing collections. UASs have been used to collect imagery data to be applied to various remote-sensing problem sets, including mapping, multimodal change detection, and 3D surface modeling. Several of the videos show the mapping, 3D surface generation, and overall collection capabilities of these UAS systems. These data collections and UAS flight capabilities have evolved over six years to include simultaneous collection of high-resolution imagery and coincident spectral data. With the experience in UAS, UAS flight, and remote-sensing algorithms, Aerospace took on the problem of multimodal optical tracking and acoustic detection for the counter-UAS initiative. Several of the videos showed examples of the tracking algorithm simulations.


The near infrared airglow camera, or NiRAC, is a high-resolution, high-sensitivity camera designed to image OH airglow emissions that originate near 85-km altitude from the International Space Station. In addition to mapping the airglow intensity and variability over much of the globe, NiRAC research goals also include upper-atmospheric gravity-wave studies and nighttime cloud imagery.

Brane Craft

An artist’s conception of Brane Craft about to capture a piece of space debris. (Graphic: Joseph Hidalgo)

NASA has awarded Aerospace a grant to investigate the possibility of developing an extremely thin spacecraft that would wrap around debris and remove it from Earth’s orbit. The innovative concept, called Brane Craft, is a 1-meter-square spacecraft that is less than half the thickness of a human hair, and therefore exceptionally light, maneuverable, and fuel efficient.

This is a sub-scale demonstration of the curvature control of a Brane Craft using flexinol wire actuators. This demonstration was set up for curvature in one direction for simplicity, but additional wires can be added for two-dimensional curving with positive and negative surface curvatures. A Brane Craft would use distributed actuators with distributed control to provide much more control of surface curvature as required.

Voice-Driven Analytics

Commercial-off-the-shelf hardware — an Amazon Echo modified by Aerospace engineers — was used to count cars from satellite imagery by using specific voice commands.

Tethered Drone Display

A sample drone was tethered and used to contextualize some of Aerospace’s CUAS experiments, including: A radio-frequency takeover of drones based on distributed radios placed around a target area, and a 3D printed acoustic takeover device that uses two-phase machine learning to detect not only the sounds of unique drones by type but also identifies whether the drone has a standard or modified payload attached.

Machine Learning for Localization Demonstration

Current technology for localization using machine learning and signals of opportunity. A device captures signal power over a wide frequency bandwidth, feeds data to a custom localization and classification algorithm and returns the user position by only evaluating signal powers at different frequencies. No GPS or GNSS signals are used, no ranging to any known landmarks is used either. Signals are not correlated, decoded or demodulated in any way. ​

iLab, STARS VR, Aerospace Innovation Day

The Oculus 360 is used to show the Aerospace STARS Mission Operations Center in virtual reality.

VR Demo of STARS Telemetry

A publically available launch video with simulated data demonstrates what the not-so-distant future will look like to launch analysts. Every piece of data will be available at their fingertips in realtime.

The Oculus 360 is used to show the Aerospace STARS Mission Operations Center in virtual reality.