ThinSat Program

Do you want to send a satellite to space?!

Virginia Space, in partnership with Twiggs Space Lab, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and NASA Wallops Flight Facility, has created a low cost, short term program that will increase student engagement and interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related fields. This will be achieved by using the ThinSat, a small satellite capable of transmitting data from low earth orbit.

The ThinSat Program sets a new standard for STEM related academics in the space industry.  Students from middle school to the university level will develop satellite hardware, test sensor components with low and high altitude balloon flights, analyze data, and launch an actual payload into space.

 Link to Space Data Dashboard:


NG-11 Mission


The Virginia Space ThinSat Program took off yesterday—literally.  After significant investment over the last two years by Virginia Space and program participants, 60 ThinSats and SASSI^2 launched at 4:46 PM on April 17, 2019 as a secondary payload on Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket from Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located at NASA Wallops Flight Facility.  As of 10:00 AM on April 18, 2019, 49 of the ThinSats carrying standard and custom payloads are transmitting data.   Virginia Space, Twiggs Space Lab, and Near Space Launch are actively working the Space Data Dashboard (SDD) to ensure all schools can view their data.  


ThinSat Program Overview:

  • 12U volume capacity
  • Secondary Payload aboard the Northrop Grumman Antares second stage
  • Deployment at 200-250km
  • Live data transmission using GlobalStar
  • User friendly Space Data Dashboard interface for data storage
  • Low and High Altitude Balloon Test Flights

Key Points:

  • Short-term missions completed in a school year
  • Uses latest technology for satellites
  • Universal satellite design integrated with personalized payload
  • Scientific analysis of the atmosphere                  
  • Approximately 5 days of orbit life
  • No space debris after ThinSat deorbit



Student Engagment:

Each ThinSat mission spans the length of approximately one school year and incorporates three phases. During these phases, students are introduced to satellite sensors and the engineering iterative process.

Phase 1: Introduction of sensors and development of a sensor-board called the FlatSat. Students conduct flight operations and launch a low-altitude balloon with the FlatSat attached as a data transmitting payload. Students collect and analyze data.

Phase 2:  Students develop a payload representative of the final product and integrate it with a 3D printed Engineering Model of the Thinsat, which will allows for realistic ThinSat testing and verification of data transmission. The Engineering Models are sent to a centralized location for a high altitude balloon flight.

Phase 3: Students use phase 2 data and finalize a payload for flight in orbit. This payload is then sent to Twiggs Space Lab for testing before being integration into a Containerized Satellite Dispenser (CSD) and prepared for launch. The ThinSats are deployed during a Northrop Grumman cargo resupply mission tot he ISS. They are released from the second stage of the Antares rocket into Extreme Low Earth Orbit (ELEO), transmitting data for approximately five days before deorbit and burning upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

ThinSat as a Picosatellite:

This program was developed with the invention of a picosatellite called the ThinSat, which has dimensions of 11.1 x 11.4 x 1.25 cm and a mass of 280g. The program currently has the capacity to deploy up to 84 ThinSats per mission.

The student payload will make up roughly 50% of the ThinSat volume.


Anatomy of an Antares Launch


Contact: For more information on the ThinSat Program and how your school can develop its own satellite, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.