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Students To Design Tiny Satellite For Future Launch Services Program Mission

June 30, 2011

A group of 12 students from Merritt Island High School are participating in Kennedy Space Center’s Creating Understanding and Broadening Education through Satellite (CUBES) pilot project. One day soon they may see the tiny satellite they design, called a CubeSat, fly as a secondary payload with a university satellite on one of NASA’s expendable launch vehicle missions.

The CUBES project, developed and implemented by Kennedy’s Foundations of Leadership Team, is spearheaded by the center’s Education Programs Office. The Launch Services Program (LSP) is sponsoring the project and providing the CubeSat kits and additional support material.

Merritt Island is only the second high school in the country, and the first in Florida, to design and build a CubeSat.

Danielle, an incoming senior and CUBES project manager, said she heard about the project through the school’s science club and wanted to get involved because it was truly an opportunity of a lifetime.

“I’ve lived next to the space center my entire life so it is a dream come true to be able to partner with engineers to design, construct and launch a satellite,” Danielle said.

Erin, also an incoming senior said she heard about the project through the school’s engineering club, as did many of the other students who signed up. Erin readied the preliminary system requirements for review.

“I really wanted to get involved because it seemed like something unique and different than anything else at the school,” Erin said. “I knew it would be a great learning experience.”

Kennedy mentor Shaun Daly from the Engineering Directorate, is the programmatic manager and liaison to the LSP. He said the mentors are equally excited about the potential to be involved in the development of a CubeSat.

“We hold ourselves to a promise that the students run this project,” Daly said. “We will continue to enable learning while giving guidance where needed, but the students make the end decisions.”

After completing the first major milestones, which were delivering a mission concept review and preliminary systems requirements review to NASA and industry personnel in late April, the students received approval to continue on to the design phase.

Danielle said the reviews included an overview of the mission and how the team plans to achieve it. She and other students talked about each subsystem, including power, communication, command and data and the requirements needed for each.

“The CubeSat is a tool to educate,” said Garrett Skrobot, who is the LSP PPOD/CubeSat mission manager. “It is a way to encourage high school students to get excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.”

Grace Johnson, the CUBES education project manager, said that the tiny satellite’s primary mission will be to collect vibration data during the launch, which is one of LSP’s goals. The data will be transmitted wirelessly to the university satellite also on the mission, and then from there to Earth.

“This is potentially the beginning of a series of missions that could support that effort,” Johnson said. “It’s also a way to show that high school students can design and build a small satellite.”

Danielle said that LSP requirements need to be changed in order to allow the CubeSat to be powered on during launch for data transmission. Normally, secondary payloads must be powered off so they don’t interfere with the primary satellite during launch.

According to Alison Fertig, a physics teacher and project advisor, the students will meet during the summer to redefine requirements and work on their trades. She hopes the students will be able to travel to Utah State University at the beginning of August for the Small Satellite Conference and a CubeSat workshop facilitated by California Polytechnic University.

Daly and several other mentors are exceptionally proud of the work the students already accomplished and also are impressed with the innovative solutions they developed to meet tough engineering challenges in the beginning design phase of the project.

“There is much to come,” Daly said. “We expect great things from the students and I am sure they will deliver in a big way.”

Linda Herridge, NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center

Image Caption: Merritt Island High School students tour a launch shelter at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

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