The beach ball-sized satellite, known as the Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer satellite, or DANDE, is designed to help scientists better understand how atmospheric drag can affect satellite orbits.
It is slated for launch Sept. 15.
The satellite will investigate a layer of Earth's atmosphere known as the thermosphere that varies in density at altitudes from about 200 to 300 miles above Earth, a region that is home to thousands of satellites, most of which eventually degrade, lose altitude and burn up in the atmosphere, a university release said Wednesday.
Increases in the density of thermosphere, mostly caused by space weather created by variations in solar activity, increase the drag on satellites and spacecraft.
The International Space Station dropped several miles in altitude in just a few days in 2000 when a powerful solar and geomagnetic storm slammed Earth, dramatically increasing atmospheric density.
DANDE will carry an accelerometer, a wind and temperature spectrometer, an onboard computer and an orientation control system to sense the movement, speed and direction of the satellite to help scientists better understand drag forces, researchers said.
"All satellites experience drag, which causes their orbits to degrade over time," UC Boulder astronomy major Miranda Link, co-manager of the project, said. "Knowing more about the drag forces and how they change is information we think would be valuable to any groups flying satellites, whether they are from the government or commercial sector."