Mission Overview


The FIREBIRD mission (Focused Investigations of Relativistic Electron Burst Intensity, Range, and Dynamics) is a targeted, goal-directed, space weather Cubesat mission to resolve the spatial scale size and energy dependence of electron microbursts in the Van Allen radiation belts. Relativistic electron microbursts appear as short durations of intense electron precipitation measured by particle detectors on low altitude spacecraft, seen when their orbits cross magnetic field lines which thread the outer radiation belt. Previous spacecraft missions (e.g., SAMPEX) have quantified important aspects of microburst properties (e.g., occurrence probabilities), however, some crucial properties (i.e., spatial scale) remain elusive owing to the space-time ambiguity inherent to single spacecraft missions. While microbursts are thought to be a significant loss mechanism for relativistic electrons, they remain poorly understood, thus rendering space weather models of Earth’s radiation belts incomplete. FIREBIRD’s unique two-point, focused observations at low altitudes, that fully exploit the capabilities of the Cubesat platform, will answer three fundamental scientific questions with space weather implications: 

  • What is the spatial scale size of an individual microburst?
  • What is the energy dependence of an individual microburst?
  • How much total electron loss from the radiation belts do microbursts produce globally? 

Spacecraft Overview

The FIREBIRD spacecraft is a 1.5u cubesat that is made of two parts, FIRE, and BIRD. FIRE was designed and built at the University of New Hampshire. FIRE contains two solid-state electron detectors. The BIRD portion is developed by Montana State University and controls all of the power and communication between FIRE and the ground.


FIREBIRD Flight Units (FU) 1 and 2 were launched on December 5, 2013 on the ELaNa II (GEMSat) mission. FU2 was operation for 6 weeks before the power system failed. FU1 was operational from March to June of 2014, before also suffering from a power system failure. Over 30MB of science data has been downlinked from the to units to date.

Both units now occasionally transmits a single packet when they resets, but does not respond to SSEL's commands.

FIREBIRD FU3 and FU4 were the EDU (Engineering Design Unit) and flight spare for the FIREBIRD mission, but will be now be launched as the FIREBIRD II mission.


FIREBIRD Flight Units 1 and 2 With antennas stowed.


  • FIREBIRD transmits AX.25 packets at both 9.6 kbaud and 19.2kbaud with GMSK encoding. FU1 transmits at 437.405 MHz and FU2 transmits at 437.230 MHz.
  • TLE's can be found here.
  • Mike Rupprecht (DK3WN) has built a decoder, which can be found here.
  • Packets, preferably in the .kss format, may be emailed to sseladmin at