The University of Colorado has added another entry to its portfolio of aerospace honors with the announcement that professor Scott Palo is one of 13 recipients of a NASA grant for small satellite collaborative projects.

Palo's project will focus on the development of a communications system that is compatible with the current CubeSat standard, and will support high data rate downloads.

CubeSats are miniaturized satellites of one-liter cube -- roughly the size of a toaster -- that usually weigh less than three pounds and are typically part of a spacecraft's larger payload.

NASA announced earlier this week that Palo's project at CU is one of 13 university teams selected for collaborative projects to develop and demonstrate new technologies and capabilities to spur innovation in communication, navigation, propulsion, science instruments and advanced manufacturing for small spacecraft.

Each project team will have the opportunity to establish a cooperative agreement with NASA in which each university will be funded by up to $100,000 a year, starting this fall, with most projects lasting two years.

"What's great about that win for them is that this is one of the series of wins for Scott and his team, and aerospace engineering at CU, that really gives undergrads experience with launch-related platforms," said Emily CoBabe-Ammann, director of community programs at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research -- of which CU is a member institution. "This latest success is why CU is seen as such a center of undergraduate training in aerospace engineering."

This news comes closely on the heels of an announcement this spring that NASA had selected CU as one of 24 institutions or organizations to fly the tiny satellites as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets planned for launch next year through 2016.

Those selections are part of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative, an effort that began in 2010 and involves students at institutions such as CU developing and flying CubeSat satellites. From 2010 through 2013, CU was awarded five launch opportunities for CubeSats by NASA, the most of any university in the nation.

"We were thrilled," Palo said about his proposal's selection. "And I was surprised, as well, because I know the competition was exceptionally fierce. In fact, I heard that there were over 100 proposals submitted."

As with so many other walks of life, in space it is also all about boosting the speed of data transmission.

"One of the challenges with CubeSats is that the current radios are reasonably slow -- about 9,600 bits per second dial up speed. That's an old dial-up modem speed," Palo said. "That type of communications worked fine for some of the early CubeSat missions, but now we are trying to push the envelope with CubeSats and do other science, so it's necessary to have a much faster data downlink.

Palo's project is aimed at developing a data downlink operating at 8 gigahertz, with a capacity to download 10 megabits per second -- a thousand-fold increase in speed.

Palo said his work was a collaborative effort between CU's Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences -- where he teaches -- and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or brennanc@dailycamera.com.