NASA and The Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo together confirmed Monday that the miniature Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) CubeSat spacecraft sent in space on October 8 aboard an Atlas V rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is fully functional.

CubeSats shall play a significant role in the areas of exploration, technology demonstration, educational studies and scientific research. They offer NASA a low-cost platform for its missions like Earth observations, planetary space exploration, fundamental Earth and space science. Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA HQ in Washington, DC, stated that technology demo missions like OSCD are driving exploration, and by bettering the communication facility of small spacecraft to support data-intensive science missions, OSCD shall advance the potential to become a more feasible choice for mission planners.

NASA cubesat nanosat satellite

CubeSats even facilitate inexpensive means to engage students in all phases of satellite development, operation and exploration through real-world, hands-on research and development experience. OCSD is the first in a new series of six NASA-managed technology demonstration missions to launch in the following months via CubeSats. These demonstrations shall examine technologies which can possibly outline new uses for these miniature satellites with a dimension of four inches per side.

OCSD is different from other space-based laser communication systems in a way since the laser is hard-mounted to the spacecraft body, and the CubeSat orientation controls the beam direction. This renders the laser system much more compact compared to anything previously flown in space.

The CubeSat shall assess the ability to point a small satellite accurately while it demonstrates data transfer by laser at rates of up to 200 megabytes per second – an increase by a factor of 100 over the existing high-end CubeSat communication systems. The second OCSD mission is scheduled for a February 2016 launch.