Minimize ISS: Cyclops

ISS Utilization: Cyclops - launch of microsatellites from the ISS

Overview     Launch   Mission Status    Deployer systems   References

NASA is in the process to complement the other deployers that have been developed so that the ISS (International Space Station) has several deployment options to choose from. The Cyclops project is targeting the deployment of microsatellites , especially those which geometrically do not fit in the existing launchers. Cyclops is a collaboration between the NASA ISS Program, NASA Johnson Space Center Engineering, and the Department of Defense Space Test Program (DoD STP) communities; it is a dedicated 10-100 kg class ISS small satellite deployment system. Cyclops provides small satellites the infrastructure to be deployed from the ISS into orbit with minimal technical, environmental, logistical, and cost challenges. 1)


Description of Cyclops:

NASA/JSC (Johnson Space Center) in collaboration with the STP (Space Test Program) of DoD developed this dedicated ISS microsatellite deployment system named Cyclops - which is also known as SSIKLOPS (Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems). 2) 3) 4) 5)

The system will utilize NASA's ISS resupply vehicles to launch microsatellites to the ISS in a controlled pressurized environment in soft stow bags. The satellites will then be processed through the ISS pressurized environment by the astronaut crew allowing satellite system diagnostics prior to orbit insertion. Orbit insertion is achieved through use of JAXA's (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Experiment Module Robotic Airlock (JEM Airlock), and one of the ISS Robotic Arms.

Cyclops will operate from the JEM and take advantage of the airlock's existing slide table. The launcher will be stowed inside the [space station] for use whenever a satellite is ready to be deployed. Cyclops is placed onto the airlock slide table with the attached satellite and processed through to the external environment. Cyclops, with its attached satellite, is subsequently grasped by the robotic arm and taken to the deployment position. Cyclops then deploys the satellite and is returned to the airlock where it is processed back through and stowed internally for future utilization. The design utilizes the Japanese robotic arm but does have the capability to use the space station's main robotic arm if necessary.


Figure 1: Illustration of the Cyclops platform configuration (image credit: NASA/JSC, DoD/STP)

The general Cyclops layout is shown in Figure 1. Cyclops interfaces with the JEM Airlock (AL) Slide Table, the ISS Robotic Arms, and the deployable satellites. It is being designed to be able to be utilized for the duration of the ISS mission for the deployment of microsatellites. The platform has a size of ~ 127 cm L x 61 cm W x 7.6 cm H, capable of deploying satellites of any geometry up to 100 kg, contingent upon the satellites meeting all Cyclops and ISS safety requirements. These requirements are under development and will be available from the ISS Program when completed.

Cyclops hardware components: Cyclops is a structural/mechanical system that consists of the following two major components: the Cyclops Unit and the Cyclops Unique Tools. The Cyclops Unit is the system used for airlock translation and deployment. The Cyclops Unique Tools, which are tools used by the crew for Cyclops setup, remain internal to ISS and ensure the Cyclops Unit is properly configured once the deployable payload is installed. The operational nomenclature or Op-Nom "Cyclops" is typically used to refer to only the Cyclops Unit, i.e. the deployment system that is moved and actuated by the robotic arm (Ref. 12).

The Cyclops Unit itself is comprised of the Mechanical Deployment Subsystem, the Retention & Release Mechanism and the Robotic Grasp Fixture Interface Plate.

The Mechanical Deployment Subsystem includes the Primary Deployment (pusher-plate) Mechanism, the IVA Preload Interface (for the primary system) as well as a back-up Secondary Spring Deployment Mechanism that will deploy the payload in the event of a pusher-plate mechanism failure.


Figure 2: Cyclops hardware overview showing its major components (image credit: NASA/JSC, DoD/STP)

The RRM (Retention & Release Mechanism) is used to securely retain the payload during translation operations and to release the payload when the Cyclops Unit is actuated for deployment.

The Robotic Grasp Fixture Interface Plate enables robotic translation by the JEM Small Fine Arm (SFA) or by the SPDM (Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator) as well as the initialization of Cyclops's deployment function.

Each payload planned for deployment is delivered to the ISS separately from Cyclops and is attached to Cyclops by the ISS crew prior to its translation to the external environment and subsequent deployment.

Concept of operations: Cyclops, will be launched onboard one of NASA's ISS resupply vehicles in a controlled pressurized, soft stowed environment. It will then be removed from its launch configuration by the astronaut crew and placed in its stowed location until needed.

Once a satellite deployment has been scheduled, Cyclops will be removed from its on-orbit stowage bag and placed on the JEM Airlock Slide Table. The deployable satellite will be placed on Cyclops. Cyclops and its attached satellite will be processed through the JEM Airlock to the ISS external environment. Upon completion of JEM Airlock operations Cyclops and its attached satellite will be grasped by either the ISS robotic arm, or the JEM robotic arm, and transported to its predetermined deployment position.

Cyclops will then deploy the satellite away from the ISS. After successful deployment of the satellite Cyclops will be maneuvered back to the JEM Airlock and secured on the JEM Airlock Slide Table. JEM Airlock operations will be conducted bringing Cyclops back inside the ISS, where it will be removed from the JEM Airlock Slide Table and placed in its on-orbit stowage bag. This concept of operations is illustrated in Figure 3.


Figure 3: Schematic view of Cyclops' concept of operations (image credit: NASA/JSC, DoD/STP)

Demonstration mission: Cyclops' initial satellite deployment demonstration will consist of two microsatellites:

1) SpinSat of NRL within the DoD/STP program

2) LONESTAR-2 (Low earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and docking) of TAMU (Texas A&M University) located in College Station, TX, and UTA (University of Texas at Austin). LONESTAR-2 has a mass os 56 kg and a size of 66 cm x 76 cm x 30.5 cm.

Both microsatellites are manifested on the SpX-4 (SpaceX CRS-4) resupply mission to the ISS in Q2 12014. The LONESTAR program of NASA/JSC consists of a series of four missions in which two satellites will ultimately demonstrate autonomous rendezvous and docking capabilities. Each mission consists of a pair of satellites, one each built by TAMU and UTA, demonstrating key technologies for development toward the final mission.

The current mission, LONESTAR-2, consists of AggieSat4 with partner satellite Bevo-2 contained inside. The two satellites will be launched and deployed together from the ISS via the Cyclops. After deployment from the ISS, AggieSat4 will release Bevo-2 and conduct on-orbit operations, including taking photographs of one another, as well as other mission events, operating the on-board GPS, called Dragon, developed by NASA/JSC, stabilization and pointing control, and crosslink communicating between the satellites, sharing data for calculating relative navigation solutions.

The two satellites, SpinSat and LONESTAR-2, will be launched as pressurized cargo in the SpaceX Dragon vehicle, but could also be launched as pressurized cargo in the ATV, HTV, or the Cygnus modules. Contained within foam padded soft stow cargo bags, the spacecraft only needs to meet the less stringent launch loads of soft-stow items. Multiple launch opportunities are available based on the readiness date of the satellites and the resupply vehicle manifest. To prepare for deployment, the crew removes the spacecraft from its stowage bag and attaches it to the Cyclops. The crew verifies the inhibit states and performs other actions such as removing handling fixtures, attaching antennas, or verifying the health of the spacecraft. After deployment, the spacecraft's transmitters will be inhibited on-board until it reaches a safe distance from the ISS. Deployment is expected to occur at approximately 400 km in the retrograde direction.

Microsatellite interface requirements: The interface between Cyclops and the satellite is shown in Figure 4. It attaches to the microsatellite via 3 bolts. It has a mass of approximately 0.11 kg.


Figure 4: Experiment attachment interface between Cyclops and the microsatellite (image credit: NASA/JSC, DoD/STP)

The fixture attaches to the bottom of the satellite and interfaces with the Cyclops grapple system as shown in Figures 5. It remains with the satellite at deployment.


Figure 5: Left: SpinSat to Cyclops interface; right: LONESTAR to Cyclops interface (image credit: NASA/JSC, DoD/STP)



Ballistic Number (BN)

Satellite shall have a ballistic number of ≤100 kg/m2. BN=mass / (frontal area x Cd) where Cd=2.0

Center of Gravity (CG)

Satellite shall meet the defined Cyclops' defined CG corridor (TBD).

Deployment Force

The satellite shall be able to withstand the maximum force (TBD) applied from Cyclops at the deployment interface during deployment.

Electrical Bonding

The satellite shall provide a Class S electrical bonding path to Cyclops


The satellite shall meet the ISS robotic arm potential transfer impact loads without creating debris.

Inhibit Switch Contact Surfaces

The satellite shall maintain keep out zones with its inhibit switch locations and contact surfaces.


Satellite shall meet the mass of ≤100 kg (includes the mass of the experiment attachment fixture).


The satellite shall meet all ISS Payload Safety requirements.

Structural/Mechanical Interface

The satellite mounting interface to the experiment attachment fixture shall meet the Cyclops specified requirements (TBD)


The satellite shall meet the defined allowable envelope (Figure 6).

Table 1: Preliminary microsatellite requirements for Cyclops' deployment


Figure 6: Cyclops' allowable microsatellite envelope (image credit: NASA/JSC, DoD/STP)


Launch: The Cyclops was launched as a secondary payload of the SpaceX-4 CRS (Commercial Resupply Service) mission, on September 21, 2014. Cyclops was part of the soft-stow cargo allotment on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft (Falcon-9v1.1 launch vehicle) of the SpX-4 (SpaceX CRS-4) resupply mission to the ISS. Cyclops will enhance the space station's satellite deployment capabilities. 6) 7)

Orbit: ISS near-circular orbit with an altitude of ~400 km and an inclination of 51.6º.

CRS-4 payloads:

Dragon delivers ~2270 kg of supplies and payloads, including critical materials to support 255 science and research investigations that will occur during Expeditions 41 and 42. Dragon carries three powered cargo payloads in its pressurized section and two in its unpressurized trunk. — Dragon will return with about 1725 kg of cargo, which includes crew supplies, hardware and computer resources, science experiments, space station hardware, and four powered payloads (recovery in the Pacific Ocean ~ 700 km off the coast of California). 8)

• RapidScat is the primary payload on this CRS-4 flight of SpaceX.

• 3D Print device of Made in Space Inc. of Mountain View, CA.

• New permanent life science research facility. The Bone Densitometer (BD) payload, developed by Techshot, will provide a bone density scanning capability on ISS for utilization by NASA and CASIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space). The system measures bone mineral density (and lean and fat tissue) in mice using DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry).

For the first time, Dragon will carry live mammals – 20 rodents will ride up in in NASA's Rodent Research Facility, developed by scientists and engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center. The rodent research system enables researchers to study the long-term effects of microgravity—or weightlessness—on mammalian physiology.

Secondary payloads:

• Arkyd-3 is a 3U CubeSat technology demonstrator (4 kg) from the private company Planetary Resources Inc. of Bellevue, WA, USA, (formerly known as Arkyd Astronautics). The objective is to test the technology used on the future larger Arkyd-100 space telescope. The company has contracted with NanoRacks to take the Arkyd-3 nanosatellite to the ISS where it will be released from the airlock in the Kibo module. 9)

• SpinSat, a microsatellite (57 kg) of NRL (Naval Research Laboratory), Washington D.C.

• SSIKLOPS (Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems). This launcher will provide still another means to release other small satellites from the ISS. This system is also known by the name of Cyclops and is described in the SpinSat file on the eoPortal. 10)



Mission/deployment status:

• On December 3, 2014, Andy Nicholas of NRL made first contact with SpinSat. He sent the commands to start collecting data on the satellite's spin rate, as SpinSat continued its tumbling orbit around Earth. 11)

• Figure 7 shows the SpinSat moments before and after it had been deployed by Cyclops at the end of the JEM Small Fine Arm. Initial satellite tracking determined that the SpinSat departed at a velocity of about 0.18 m/s and reached its planned safe distance from the ISS. The U.S. NRL (Naval Research Laboratory) successfully established communication with SpinSat. Since deployment, SpinSat has continued to accomplish its mission objectives and provide data to NRL. 12)


Figure 7: Left: SpinSat deployment from Cyclops; right: SpinSat photo shortly after deployment (image credit: NASA)

• Successful deployment of SpinSat, using the Cyclops deployment system, from the airlock of the JEM, took place on Nov. 28, 2014 at 14:30 UTC into a 400 km orbit at 51.65º inclination. This was the first time a new deployment mechanism was used on the ISS to pave the way for future deployments of satellites of different sizes and masses using the robotics system of the Space Station.

- For the deployment, the crew of the Space Station (Butch Wilmore and Terry Virts) installed the satellite on the Cyclops (SSIKLOPS) deployer using a single bracket. The deployer was then installed on the slide table of the Airlock of the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module) and necessary leak checks were completed before the outer hatch of the airlock was opened and the slide table was extended to allow the RMS (Remote Manipulator System) to grapple the Cyclops deployer. The arm was maneuvered to the proper position to release the satellite into a specific direction that ensures a safe departure path from ISS without any risk of re-contact on subsequent orbits. 13) 14)


Figure 8: Illustration of the Cyclops mounting concept onto the JEM airlock slide table with SpinSat as the first payload to be deployed. The slide table can be adjusted into any deployment direction (image credit: NASA/JSC)



Some background on the JEM/Kibo deployment facility:

Only the JAXA JEM/Kibo module has an airlock system, which is used to move hardware in and out of the space station. So that's the only way to deploy small satellites from the ISS. Also, Kibo has the MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform), which is specifically designed for moving hardware out of the ISS through the airlock, using Kibo's robotic arm. 15) 16)



Figure 9: Photo of the JEM/Kibo module (image credit: JAXA, Ref. 15)

JEM/Kibo Airlock (AL) System of JAXA: Kibo's airlock system is dedicated to small-size goods only. The maximum size of an item that can pass through this airlock is 576 mm x 830 mm x 800 mm. The airlock, attached to the Kibo's PM (Pressurized Module), is being utilized when experiment equipment or materials need to be transferred between the PM, pressurized to one Earth atmosphere, and the EF (Exposed Facility), located in the space vacuum.

Outer diameter

1.7 m (outer side), 1.4 m (inner side, inside the PM)


2. 0 m

Pressure proof performance

1047 hPa

Allowable size for transfer of hardware

576 mm x 830 mm x 800 mm

Allowable mass for transfer of hardware

300 kg

Power consumption

< 600 W

Table 2: JEM Airlock specifications


Figure 10: Schematic view of the Kibo PM and EF with the Airlock location in the PM (left), and the Airlock system layout (right), image credit: JAXA

The airlock system is cylindrical and is attached to the pressurized module's manipulator side. One cylinder hatch is located on each side. The hatch on the PM side is called the inner hatch; the hatch exposed to space is called the outer hatch. Items to be transferred through the airlock are first fastened on a slide table then transferred by sliding this table. The inner hatch has a small window that enables viewing the inside of the airlock.


Figure 11: Photo of the Airlock system on Kibo, outer hatch (left), inner hatch (center) and slide table (right) image credit: JAXA



Three deployer systems for small satellites on the ISS

1) J-SSOD (JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer):

The J-SSOD (aka JSSOD) facility of JAXA on Japan's JEM/Kibo module was the first system of its kind to deploy small satellites (1U up to 3U CubeSats) from the International Space Station. On July 21, 2012, JAXA launched the HTV-3 module to the ISS. The J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer) of JAXA was a payload on this flight along with five CubeSats that were planned to be deployed by the J-SSOD mounted on the JEMRMS (JEM- Remote Manipulator System), a robotic arm, later in 2012.

The first demonstration of this new JSSOD technology was performed on Oct. 4, 2012, deploying five CubeSats, from the Kibo Laboratory. JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide commanded the first deployment from the station, with the second commanded from the ground control team. Using the JEMRMS ( JEM Remote Manipulator System), Hoshide assisted with the deployment of the satellites that involved several different investigations. 17)

The CubeSats deployed were: RAIKO (a 2U CubeSat of Wakayama University); FISat-1 of FIT (Fukuoka Institute of Technology); WeWish of Meisei Electric Company, Japan; F-1 (of FTP University, Hanoi, Vietnam, the first NanoRacks customer for CubeSat deployment services; and TechEdSat of San Jose State University, San Jose, CA,USA. 18)

The J-SSOD is a unique satellite launcher, handled by the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS), which provides containment and deployment mechanisms for several individual small satellites. The J-SSOD platform, including the satellite install cases holding the small satellites, is transferred by crewmembers into the vacuum of space through the JEM airlock for JEMRMS retrieval, positioning and deployment.

There are two chutes on the JSSOD deployer, with each chute holding up to three 1U CubeSats . While attached to the robotic arm, the platform is released from the JEM Airlock, and positioned away from the station for safe deployment of the satellites. The J-SSOD also allows the crew to power up the satellites right before deployment, as opposed to when the satellites are loaded onto the launch vehicles. This not only extends the battery life, but allows the crew to check functionality and make simple repairs, if necessary.


Figure 12: Left: JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide preparing the JSSOD; Right: Grappled by the Kibo's RMS, the JSSOD is ready to release the CubeSats on the outside of JEM/Kibo (image credit: JAXA)


2) NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer):

NanoRacks LLC of Houston, TX, a private logistics company, offers multiple commercial opportunities to use the U.S. National Lab on the ISS (International Space Station) for educational, institutional, or industry research. The NanoRacks smallsat research program provides a commercial gateway to the extreme environment of space for Earth and deep space observation. Any LEO payload is in play (i.e. atmospheric data collection, validation of COTS products/sensors, etc).

In 2013, NanoRacks sought permission from NASA to complement the JAXA small satellite deployers, called J-SSOD (JEM-Small Satellite Orbital Deployer), with a larger model, NRCSD, provided by NanoRacks to hold larger and more satellites. This new NanoRacks deployer system, was designed, manufactured and acceptance-tested by NanoRacks and launched on the Orbital Sciences Cygnus CRS-1 flight on January 9, 2014. It permitted NanoRacks the subsequent release of 33 CubeSats of their customers, using the new NanoRacks deployer system with the JEMRMS (JEM-Remote Manipulating System) of JAXA – to grapple and position for deployment. 19)

The NRCSD is a self-contained CubeSat deployer system that mechanically and electrically isolates CubeSats from the ISS, cargo resupply vehicles, and ISS crew. The NRCSD design is compliant with NASA ISS flight safety requirements and is space qualified. 20)


Figure 13: Illustration of the NRCSD (image credit: NanoRacks)

The NRCSD was designed by NanoRacks and built under contract by Quad-M, Inc. Each NanoRacks CubeSat Mission currently has 16 NRCSD's, with a total of 96U (6U per deployer). The NRCSD's were designed not only just to accommodate larger (longer) nanosatellites, but also to increase the deployment capacity per CubeSat mission.

The first set of NRCSD's was launched on Cygnus CRS Orb-1 on January 9, 2014. The NRCSDs were designed so that NanoRacks could deploy more satellites and larger payloads. The NRCSDs utilize the same facilities (infrastructure) as the J-SSOD (mounts to slide table via MPEP, passes through the JEM airlock, etc).

- The first CubeSats deployed were Planet Labs Doves (28 3U CubeSats). The deployments from Orb-1 occurred in February, 2014. While Planet Labs was the majority of the manifest, there were a number of other unique CubeSats on the mission. The deployers then come down from the ISS and are refurbished. NanoRacks then send another 16 up on each Orbital CSR mission.

A NanoRacks file on the eoPortal provides more information on the NRCSD system of NanoRacks as well as the NanoRacks services.


3) Cyclops:

The third small satellite deployer system on the ISS, using the JEM/Kibo Airlock (AL) System of JAXA is Cyclops, developed by NASA/JSC in collaboration with the STP (Space Test Program) of DoD. The Cyclops project is targeting the deployment of microsatellites in the 50 -100 kg class, especially those which geometrically do not fit in the existing launcher systems of J-SSOD of JAXA and the NRCSD system of NanoRacks.

The Cyclops was launched as a secondary payload of the SpaceX-4 CRS (Commercial Resupply Service) mission, on September 21, 2014.

A successful deployment of SpinSat, using the Cyclops deployment system, from the airlock of the JEM, took place on Nov. 28, 2014.

Note: The Cyclops system is described at the beginning of this file, further information is provided in the SpinSat file on the eoPortal of ESA.


1) "Meet Space Station's Small Satellite Launcher Suite," NASA, April 3, 2014, URL:

2) Space Station Robot Fitted With Satellite Deployer | Animation," April 6, 2014, URL:

3) Daniel R. Newswander, James P. Smith, Craig R. Lamb, Perry G. Ballard, "Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems (SSIKLOPS) – Cyclops," Proceedings of the 27th AIAA/USU Conference, Small Satellite Constellations, Logan, Utah, USA, Aug. 10-15, 2013, paper: SSC13-V-2, URL:

4) Jeff Faust, "New options for launching smallsats," The Space Review, August 26, 2013, URL:

5) Daniel Newswander, James Smith, Craig Lamb, Perry Ballard, "Update on Progress of SSIKLOPS (Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems) – Cyclops," Proceedings of the AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan, Utah, USA, August 2-7, 2014 , paper: SSC14-P3-1, URL:

6) "SpaceX CRS-4 Mission," NASA Press Kit, Sept. 2014, URL:

7) "With SpinSat Mission, NRL Will Spin Small Satellite in Space with New Thruster Technology," NRL, Sept. 18, 2014, URL:

8) Patrick Blau, "Dragon SpX-4 Cargo Overview," Spaceflight 101, URL:

9) Benjamin Romano, "Planetary Resources Inks 3D Systems Deal, Plans Test Launch From ISS," June 26, 2013, URL:

10) Daniel R. Newswander, James P. Smith, Craig R. Lamb, Perry G. Ballard, "Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems (SSIKLOPS) – Cyclops," Proceedings of the 27th AIAA/USU Conference, Small Satellite Constellations, Logan, Utah, USA, Aug. 10-15, 2013, paper: SSC13-V-2, URL:

11) "Space Station Astronauts Launch SpinSat; NRL Starts Getting Data," NRL News, URL:

12) Matthew P. Hershey, Daniel R. Newswander, James P. Smith, Craig R. Lamb, Perry G. Ballard, "Paving the Way for Small Satellite Access to Orbit: Cyclops' Deployment of SpinSat, the Largest Satellite ever Deployed from the International Space Station," Proceedings of the 29th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan, Utah, USA, August 8-13, 2014, paper: SSC15-II-6, URL:

13) "Space Station Live: Cyclops Hits the Target," URL:

14) Patrick Blau, "SpinSat," Spaceflight 101, URL:

15) "Kibo Handbook," JAXA, September 2007, URL:

16) "Japanese Style Contribution on the International Space Station," MEXT, 57th session of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Vienna, 18 June 2014, URL:

17) Lori Keith, "CubeSats in Orbit After Historic Space Station Deployment, NASA, October 12, 2012, URL:

18) "JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD)," JAXA, November 6, 2013, URL:

19) Testimony of Mr. Jeffrey Manber Managing Director, NanoRacks LLC before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space, April 9, 2014, URL:

20) "NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD) Interface Control Document," NRCSD ICD, Dec. 10, 2013, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

Overview    Launch    Mission Status    Deployer systems   References    Back to top