AFRL satellite departing International Space Station

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. – An Air Force Research Laboratory satellite, called the Very Low Frequency Propagation Mapper, or VPM, will be released from the International Space Station Jan. 31.

VPM was launched on a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station in Dec. 5, 2019 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The primary goal for VPM will be to gather important data to better understand the effectiveness of its partner, Demonstration and Experiments Satellite, or DSX, which has been on orbit conducting basic research on the effects of particles in the Van Allen Radiation Belt.

VPM has been onboard the ISS waiting for release by NASA astronauts, who will install it onto the Cygnus resupply spacecraft, which will depart and release the satellite, sending it onto the next stage of its mission.

“Once the Cygnus resupply vehicle departs the ISS, it will boost to a higher orbit,” said Capt. Stephen Tullino, Deputy Program Manager of AFRL’s Small Satellite Portfolio. “It will take roughly one day to get into position to deploy, and we will attempt our first listen for DSX’s signal, two to four weeks after deployment.”

The AFRL satellite’s overall mission is to collect data on the DSX satellite that the Air Force launched in June 2019.

“We want to measure the presence and intensity of very low frequency transmissions from DSX,” said Tullino. “Data received from VPM will be analyzed with the information from the DSX Wave Particle Interaction Experiment equipment to obtain an evaluation of two points in the inner magnetosphere.”

After being ejected from Cygnus, VPM will initialize, deploy its designated equipment, and prepare to collect and transmit the data that the mission team will analyze over the course of its active lifespan.

“VPM will operate in orbit for one year,” Tullino said. “The spacecraft is expected to de-orbit from space somewhere between two to 15 years, after deployment.”

(Watch live on NASA TV (https:/// Jan. 31 beginning at 9:15 a,m. EST)

image of satellite

The Very Low Frequency Propagation Mapper, or VPM, with solar panels deployed. Photo: U.S. Air Force