Encyclopedia Astronautica

American technology satellite. 2 launched, 2004.12.21. The Three-Corner Sat mission was to obtain stereo images of clouds and test artificial intelligence software.

The satellites, nicknamed "Ralphie" and "Sparky" by organizers, each carried four digital cameras pointing in different directions. Artificial intelligence software developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. and software from Interface Control Systems in Boulder, was to allow each satellite to make onboard decisions during the mission. The smart software, for example, could detect unexpected events and change the scheduling of satellite operations.

The six-sided, 16-kg satellites were each about 46 cm across and 30 cm high. Released at roughly 220 km above Earth, the satellites were to slowly drift apart. Because of the very low-orbit altitude, the satellites were to be in the outer edge of Earth's atmosphere. They were expected to be operational for only two to three days before atmospheric drag caused them to start tumbling, fall into the atmosphere and burn up. The satellites were to take stereoscopic images using two different satellites to test the system's artificial intelligence software and stereo-image quality,

Three-Corner Sat was a joint effort of CU-Boulder, Arizona State University, New Mexico State University, NASA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The project was undertaken by students, primarily undergraduates, at the schools as part of the NASA-sponsored Space Grant Consortium program that began in 1989.

The mission had been altered and delayed from its original plan. Three satellites were built as part of the mission and were originally slated for launch aboard the space shuttle in 2003. After the shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003, mission organizers pursued other means of launching the satellites and early in 2004 were offered an opportunity to be a part of the first launch of the new Boeing Delta IV Heavy rocket. Because of weight and space limitations, only two of the three satellites were to be launched.

AKA: Three-Corner Sat.
Gross mass: 16 kg (35 lb).
Height: 0.40 m (1.31 ft).
Diameter: 0.30 m (0.98 ft).
First Launch: 2004.12.21.
Number: 2 .

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Associated Countries
See also
  • Delta IV The Delta IV was the world's first all-Lox/LH2 launch vehicle and represented the only all-new-technology launch vehicle developed in the United States since the 1970's. It was the winner of the bulk of the USAF EELV orders and was based on the all-new RS-68-powered Lox/LH2 cryogenic Common Booster Core (CBC). This could be used with new Delta cryogenic upper stages powered by the RL10 engine but unrelated to previous Centaur upper stages. More...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Delta IV Heavy American orbital launch vehicle. Heavy lift all-cryogenic launch vehicle using two Delta-4 core vehicles as first stage flanking a single core vehicle as second stage. A heavy upper stage is carried with a 5 m diameter payload fairing. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • USAF American agency overseeing development of rockets and spacecraft. United States Air Force, USA. More...

Associated Launch Sites
  • Cape Canaveral America's largest launch center, used for all manned launches. Today only six of the 40 launch complexes built here remain in use. Located at or near Cape Canaveral are the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, used by NASA for Saturn V and Space Shuttle launches; Patrick AFB on Cape Canaveral itself, operated the US Department of Defense and handling most other launches; the commercial Spaceport Florida; the air-launched launch vehicle and missile Drop Zone off Mayport, Florida, located at 29.00 N 79.00 W, and an offshore submarine-launched ballistic missile launch area. All of these take advantage of the extensive down-range tracking facilities that once extended from the Cape, through the Caribbean, South Atlantic, and to South Africa and the Indian Ocean. More...
  • Cape Canaveral LC37B Saturn I, Delta IV launch complex. Complexes 34 and 37 were designed to support NASA's Saturn I and Saturn IB program. Complex 37 was built in 1962, and it was occupied by NASA in January 1963. Complex 37 supported eight Saturn I and Saturn IB missions, including the first flight of an unmanned Apollo lunar module, between 29 January 1964 and 23 January 1968. Complexes 34 and 37 were mothballed in November 1971, and their service structures were scrapped in April 1972. NASA retained control of both complexes, and both sites became NASA tour stops. More...

3CSat Chronology

2004 December 21 - . 21:50 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC37B. Launch Pad: SLC37B. LV Family: Delta IV. Launch Vehicle: Delta IV Heavy. LV Configuration: Delta 4H/4050H.
  • 3CSat 1 Sparkie - . Payload: Nanosat 2. Mass: 15 kg (33 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: USAF. Manufacturer: New Mexico. Class: Technology. Type: Navigation technology satellite. Spacecraft: 3CSat. COSPAR: 2004-050x. One of a pair of student-built nanosats for stero cloud imagery. The satellites did not contact the ground after separation from the booster in a lower-than-planned orbit and their fate was unclear. It was believed that they separated but re-entered rapidly from the 105 km perigee orbit.
  • 3CSat 2 Ralphie - . Payload: Nanosat 2. Mass: 15 kg (33 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: USAF. Manufacturer: Colorado. Class: Technology. Type: Navigation technology satellite. Spacecraft: 3CSat. COSPAR: 2004-050x.

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