COPPER: Close Orbiting Propellant Plume and Elemental Recognition

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The Close Orbiting Propellant Plume and Elemental Recognition (COPPER) mission is to perform a first flight of a commercially-available, compact microbolometer array. [Translation: it’s a tiny infrared camera developed by FLIR Systems.] We will evaluate the suitability of using this instrument for Earth observation and space situational awareness. COPPER is a 1U CubeSat (10 cm cube with a mass around 1 kg) designed to operate in Low Earth Orbit.

COPPER was SLU’s entry into the University Nanosat-6 Competition, which ran from 2009-2011. In February 2011, COPPER was selected by NASA for a sponsored launch under its Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) Program. COPPER was manifested on the ORS-3 launch, a Minotaur-1rocket flight out of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Wallops Island, VA. COPPER was launched on 19 November 2013, but was never heard from on-orbit.


COPPER was the first spacecraft developed by the students at Saint Louis University. As such, our primary objective was to take a spacecraft through the design, testing, launch and operations phase. (While 3 out of 4 isn't bad, we can't call it a success...) We were also interested in testing out the usefulness of the Tau microbolometer array for use in our Rascal proximity-operations mission.


COPPER was a 1U CubeSat (10 cm cube with a mass around 1 kg) designed to operate in Low Earth Orbit. 

Copper consisted of the SCARAB bus and two plug-in payloads:

The FLIR Tau 320 Microbolometer Array with a custom-built interface board gave greater control over the imager and allowing us to store 14-bit images at speeds approaching 30 frames per second. 

The Commodore payload, developed by Vanderbilt University as a pathfinder for the Argus mission. 


*Dear Amateur radio enthusiasts, COPPER is one of these three objects: 

39395 (2013-064R)

39402 (2013-064Y)

39405 (2013-064AB)
If you happen to listen in on 437.290 MHz during a pass from one of those objects and, by some miracle, you hear AX.25 UNPROTO packets, please contact us!