Panel Discussion

Emerging Needs for SmallSat and CubeSat Calibration

The number of SmallSat and CubeSat launches is increasing. As the focus of these platforms continues to mature from primarily technical demonstration to science missions, their distinctive calibration requirements will also mature. The demand to meet the unique time, budget, and SWAP constraints for instruments on these small platforms is driving the development of new calibration technologies and methods.

This panel will discuss the emerging calibration requirements, technologies, and methodologies for SmallSat and CubeSat-based instruments. The discussion will cover the data needs, scope of testing, ground vs. vicarious calibration, and on-board calibration requirements and technologies. Representatives from industry, government, and academic organizations will share their perspectives on this developing field.


Dr. William Blackwell, MIT Lincoln Laboratory

Bill Blackwell has served as principal investigator on MicroMAS-1, MicroMAS-2, and MiRaTA cubesat atmospheric sounding programs. He is currently PI on the TROPICS Earth Venture mission, is leading the formulation of the Earth Observing Nanosatellite-Microwave mission for NOAA, and is the Associate Leader of the Applied Space Systems Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory.  Dr. Blackwell previously served as the Sensor Scientist for the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder, now operational on the SNPP and NOAA-20 satellites. Dr. Blackwell has authored over 125 papers on all aspects of atmospheric remote sensing.

Dr. David Osterman, Ball Aerospace

Dr. David Osterman is a Principal Engineer in Systems Engineering at Ball Aerospace. He is the Principal Investigator for CIRiS (Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space), a mission to demonstrate new calibration technologies on a CubeSat. The CIRiS instrument is a three-band, thermal infrared radiometric imager that carries its own calibration system, and has multiple on-orbit parameter selections for calibration optimization in low earth orbit. It is scheduled for launch in 2019. 

Dr. Osterman is also the chief systems engineer for the Ball Aerospace segment of E-THEMIS (Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System), an instrument being developed with Arizona State University for the NASA Europa Clipper mission. E-THEMIS is a remote thermal imager that will explore the temperature profile of the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

Previously, Dr. Osterman has had systems engineering roles at Ball Aerospace on a number of flight programs including GEMS, TEMPO, HiSCI, OLI and SBUV. He has lead programs to develop a variety of technologies for space applications including focal planes, interferometers and imaging instruments. Dr. Osterman has an AB from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Columbia University, both in physics.

David Spencer, NOAA

Mr. David Spencer is the Senior Engineer of the Office of Systems Architecture and Advanced Planning for NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Services office (NESDIS). Among other things, he is responsible for identifying technologies and methods that are mature enough for operational demonstration and future integration into the NESDIS architecture that will advance the performance and resiliency of NOAA’s mission.

Prior to joining NOAA, Mr. Spencer spent 30 years at the Naval Research Laboratory developing smallsats and sensors using cutting edge technology for civil and military use. An example of this is the Clementine mission, which in the early 90’s utilized surplus SDIO (Star Wars) sensors, and a commercial RISC processor using high-level commands, to digitally map the entire lunar surface. It was one of the first missions to post images for free on a new thing called the ‘Internet’.

Mr. Spencer holds a bachelors and master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Colorado.

Ignacio Zuleta, Planet

Dr. Ignacio A. Zuleta is the Director of Planet’s Imaging group, which leads payload operation, calibration and development for the Dove, RapidEye and SkySat constellations. Dr. Zuleta is originally trained as a physical chemist - him having trained first at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina at the undergraduate level. He subsequently obtained his doctorate and did his postdoctoral studies at Stanford University (PhD) and University of California, San Francisco, respectively. More recently Dr. Zuleta has lead efforts in image processing, systems engineering, calibration and payload development at Planet Labs where he and his team lead the company’s primary EO imaging roadmap. He has co-authored many publications and presentations spanning chemical, biological and space-borne instrumentation.



Dr. Pat Patterson, USU/Space Dynamics Laboratory

Dr. Patterson is the Director of Advanced Concepts at Utah State University’s (USU) Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL). With nearly 30 years of experience in the space industry, Dr. Patterson has a distinctive and broad history in space systems engineering for upper atmospheric research, small satellites, and planning and directing mission operations. 

Dr. Patterson has supported multiple space sensor, sounding rocket, and spacecraft programs through systems engineering and program management. He has also supported development of test plans and training documentation, trained on-site operators, and served as operations lead for spacecraft, laser, and radar systems for multiple Air Force programs.

Dr. Patterson is the Chairman of the Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites. Other roles include membership on the AIAA Small Satellite Technical Committee, the Technical Committee for the European Space Agency 4S Symposium, and the Scientific Program Committee for the IAA Symposium on Small Satellites for Earth Observation. He also serves as an Industrial Advisory Committee member for USU’s Electrical and Computer Engineering department. 

Dr. Patterson earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering (Space Systems Engineering) at USU.