NASA selects University of Delaware’s CubeSat spacecraft for upcoming mission

NASA selects University of Delaware’s CubeSat spacecraft for upcoming mission

April 19, 20242 min read

It’s safe to say that not many students expect to lead a NASA-supported mission during their undergraduate studies. But at least a dozen from the University of Delaware will have done that by the time they collect their diplomas in the next few years.

All are part of a team creating Delaware’s first orbital spacecraft, which was selected by NASA for launch in 2026 as part of its CubeSat Launch Initiative. The NASA program, which started in 2011, aims to give students an opportunity to be part of real missions and gain extraordinary experience in what it takes to do space research.

CubeSats are small, modular, inexpensive satellites that carry experiments for science investigations and/or technology demonstrations. About 160 CubeSats have been launched in the NASA program over the years, many deployed from the International Space Station (ISS).

Delaware’s mission — the Delaware Atmospheric Plasma Probe Experiment (DAPPEr) — will launch its CubeSat spacecraft from the ISS and orbit independently through Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The CubeSat will be about the size of a loaf of bread, according to the team’s faculty mentor, Bennett Maruca, associate professor of physics and astronomy. It will gather data about the density and temperature of electrons in Earth’s upper atmosphere, recording changes observed at different latitudes and times of day. This data will inform future research on how the sun affects conditions there.

Understanding the sun’s interaction with the Earth’s atmosphere is critical to development of satellite communications networks, global positioning systems (GPS) and national security.

But the real objective is educational, Maruca said. The students are the “deliverables.” They’ll emerge from this work with an insider’s view of what it’s like to develop and work on a NASA mission.

To arrange an interview with Maruca, contact UD's media relations team at

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