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AERO & VISTA CubeSats: “Listening” to the Earth’s aurora




16: Aeronautics and Astronautics

Faculty Supervisor:

Rebecca Masterson

Faculty email:


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Please contact Mary Knapp (mknapp@mit.edu) and Becky Masterson (becki@mit.edu) with a brief (1 paragraph) statement about your interest in the project, relevant experience, and CV/resume.

Project Description

AERO and VISTA are a pair of small satellites (CubeSats), which will test a novel "Vector Sensor" instrument capable of sampling low radio frequencies from orbit in the Earth's auroral zones. The AERO-VISTA mission is led by Haystack and scheduled for launch in 2022. The satellites are funded and the project is in the design phase. This project is therefore an excellent opportunity for students to get involved with a space mission at the ground floor and explore some of the unique capabilities of the vector sensor, satellite engineering and/or aspects of operations planning for the mission. This opportunity is ideal for students interested in RF engineering and signal processing, satellite design, orbital mechanics, and/or auroral science and space plasma physics. Project specifics can be tailored to the student’s interests and experience. Possible projects could include (but are not limited to): • Development of signal processing algorithms and pipelines for vector sensor data • AERO-VISTA science software aimed at accelerating the discovery of new auroral phenomena • Flight data visualization (e.g. interactive data viewers/GUIs) • Modeling the evolution of the satellites’ orbit due to drag, and using drag to control orbital separation • Sensor hardware testing/characterization


Relevant experience may include: • Coding experience in python (preferred) and/or MATLAB • Familiarity with Unix/Linux • Statistical signal processing • Familiarity with orbital mechanics and/or spacecraft systems • Interest in and/or experience in planetary science and space physics