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Department of Earth & Space Sciences
Space Science Center, Room 101
235 Martindale Drive
Morehead, KY 40351
Phone: 606-783-2381
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MSU Home :: Academics :: Earth and Space Science :: NEWS - First Contact Made with CXBN






 Morehead State University and its partners report contact has been established with the Cosmic X-Ray Background Nanosatellite (CXBN). The Cosmic X-Ray Background Nanosatellite (CXBN)-- codenamed "Unbridled Spirit"is a loaf of bread sized, five-pound nanosatellite designed to be one of the first "cubesats" to undertake a significant science mission.

The CXBN mission represents the first launch, on-orbit deployment and operation of a satellite entirely built in Kentucky. The goal of the mission is to significantly increase the precision of measurements of the Cosmic X-Ray Background emanating from the explosive birth of the universe some 13.8 billion years ago. Measurements made by the satellite’s X-ray detector will constrain models that attempt to explain the relative contribution of proposed sources lending insight into the underlying physics of the early universe.

The satellite was launched on Sept. 13 as a secondary payload on a U.S. Department of Defense mission. The spacecraft achieved a 480 x 780 km elliptical orbit at 60 degrees inclination where it is currently operating. Numerical models indicate that CXBN will remain on orbit for approximately 10 years.

The ground station at MSU acquired the satellite beacon at 12:51 EDT on Sept. 18. The beacons appear exactly at the right frequency, correct bandwidth and correct beacon interval. An image of the beacon is shown on a "waterfall display" taken from a software defined radio (SDR) that represents the back-end of the ground station.

The beacon also has been detected by other ground stations around the world including several amateur radio operators. Mike Rupprecht of Frankfurt, Germany, detected the beacon on the first day after launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sept. 13.

Rupprecht is likely the first operator to have detected the beacon. He has been tracking the satellite since its launch. The beacon contains telemetry that includes information about the health of the satellite and the status of its subsystems. This data proves that the spacecraft is alive and well. The team will spend the next few weeks assessing the status of the subsystems and beginning to decode the beacons. After the subsystems are verified to be operating nominally, the team will begin powering up systems associated with the scientific payload and begin the science missions operations.

CXBN was selected by NASA in 2011 for the flight opportunity through NASA’s Educational Launch of a Nanosatellite (ELaNa) program. The satellite was entirely built in Kentucky at MSU, and its payload, an innovative Cadmium-Zinc-Telluride X-ray detector, referred to as the science array, was built at Black Forest Engineering in Colorado.

Students and faculty of MSU’s Space Science Center and its partners designed, fabricated, tested, and delivered the satellite to NASA in one year. Partnering on the project were MSU, Kentucky Space LLC, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Noqsi Aerospace, Black Forest Engineering and Little H-Bar ranch.

Dr. Ben Malphrus, chair of MSU’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences; serves as Principle Investigator on the project, leading the team to completion and delivery of the satellite on the extremely compressed one-year timeline. Dr. Garrett Jernigan, formerly of the University of California at Berkeley and currently with Little H-Bar Ranch, is the Project Scientist and designed the science array. MSU’s Kevin Brown, assistant professor of Space Science, and Tyler Rose, student engineering team leader, led a team of engineers and scientists at the Space Science Center in designing, building and testing the satellite.

Kentucky Space and its partners, since its inception in 2007, have flown experiments on two space shuttle flights, developed the first CubeLabs on the International Space Station, and launched a CubeSat, KySat-1 in 2010 (but experienced a rocket failure). CXBN represents the first satellite built in Kentucky to reach Earth orbit.

"It is very exciting to see all of the spacecraft systems are a ‘go’ at this early critical stage of the mission," said Kris Kimel, president of Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation and CEO of Kentucky Space.

The team from MSU’s Space Science Center includes Dr. Roger McNeil, dean of the College of Science and Technology;Eric Thomas, star theater director and microfabrication engineer; Jeff Kruth, staff electrical engineer; Michael Combs, space antenna systems engineer; Bob Kroll, space systems engineer; Dr. Tom Pannuti, associate professor of space science; Professor Bob Twiggs, who invented the CubeSat worldwide nanosatellite standard and a team of 16 students. Twyman Clements of KySpace directed the extensive space environment testing defined by NASA to meet its launch services program requirements.

CXBN is one of the first CubeSats to perform a significant science mission, proving that the nanosatellite form factor invented by Twiggs in 2004 has evolved into a highly effective small satellite platform capable of performing a wide variety of satellite functions. CXBN is operated primarily by undergraduate students at MSU who also will reduce, calibrate and analyze the scientific data it produces.

CXBN was funded internally by Morehead State University and its partners.

Additional information is available here or by contacting Dr. Malphrus at 606-783-2381 or at







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