Breaking the bondS of Earth
SKC students ready a satellite for NASA
By Lailani Upham
A CubeSat can be held with one hand. The total cost on hardware alone is approximately $22,000, stated Olson. (Lailani Upham, photo)
PABLO — Salish Kootenai College is one of 33 higher education institutions across the nation to have their satellite design selected by NASA to be launched next year, according to Tim Olson, SKC Division of Sciences Director.
SKC is the first tribal college to launch a CubeSat satellite and the second college in Montana. MSU-Bozeman was the first.
Physics student Cory Drowatsky tests CubeSat in what he describes as “moment of inertia” with the assistance from Computer Engineering student Zach DuMontier. (Lailani Upham photo)
CubeSats are small “low cost” satellites in the shape of a cube 10 centimeters in size used by universities, government agencies, and private businesses to orbit the earth to produce images utilizing solar power.
The SKC CubeSat selection is one to be proud of as the tribal college’s satellite design matches building and design along with big name colleges such as Cal-Berkeley, Notre Dam, Texas, MIT, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
CubeSats are effective opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in space flight missions and NASA recognized the importance of the next generation of space scientist and engineers through build and design of the mini-satellites at their higher education institutions.
CubeSat circuit board with camera lens attached. (Lailani Upham photo)
The proposal went in to NASA in 2011 and was handpicked in 2012, says Olson.
The SKC CubeSat is due to launch in 2014, says Olson. The exact date has not been determined.
In 2010, the three-year “CubeSat” project started.
However, the building of the mini-starship began before the selection.
Computer Engineering student, Judy Hudgins, works on the electrical power control sub-system for the CubeSat.
The design is complete and the SKC team is working on the stages of testing equipment.
The aim of the project is to motivate and prepare Native students to go into careers at NASA centers, as NASA contactors, or attend universities performing NASA-sponsored research.
The three main of the project for SKC engineering and science students and faculty is to design, build, test, and fly a CubeSat mission in Earth orbit; to participate at the co-investigator level in a major NASA flight mission; and to seek further possibilities for SKC to participate in NASA flight missions at a co-investigator or principal investigator level.
There are nine students and four faculty mentors on SKC CubeSat team: B.S. Computer Engineering students Robert Davis, Zachary DuMontier, Ryan Beagles, Judy Hudgins, Heather Mitchell, and Ryan Young; B.S. Information Technology student, Robert Sanchez; B.S. Hydrology student, Noel Stewart; and A.S. General Science student, Cory Drowatsky.
One of the SKC CubeSat solar panels that will be secured to the body of the satellite. (Lailani Upham photo)
Faculty mentors are: Al Anderson, Tim Olson, Thomas Thickel, and Andrew Westerman.
With the main goal being educational and the science objective of using broad-band visible light orbital imagery to study atmospheric aerosols, cloud formation, and various hydrologic processes, the camera system design will build on the experience gained by the SKC students and faculty with it’s NASA High Altitude Student Platform Wide Field Camera designed for HASP Flight 5.
The payload for the CubeSat is a camera system will be taking aerial images of the Flathead Reservation from space, says Olson.
A satellite communications ground station has been built on SKC campus where operations of the CubeSat will be monitored by the SKC team.
The compressor mechanism to the Thermal Vacuum Chamber. (Lailani Upham photo)
In 2010, NASA awarded $3.3 million to tribal colleges over a three-year span to support academic excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEAM) education.
The awards were part of a Cooperative Agreement Notice released by the NASA Office of Education’s Minority University Research and Education Program for Tribal Colleges and Universities Project (TCUP).
The three institutions picked through a merit-based, peer-reviewed competition for funding were Kiksapa Consulting, LLC of Mandan, N.D.; Salish Kootenai College; and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium in Alexandria, Virginia.
The SKC CubeSat will be the first NASA flight mission with a tribal college as the principal investigator. Approximately twenty tribal college engineering and science students, fourteen from SKC and six from other tribal colleges, will be provided NASA flight mission experience through internships, according to Olson.
Thermal Vacuum Chamber, a space simulator used for temperature and high vacuum testing. The chamber is used to test the Cube Sat’s from minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The equipment was purchased a couple years ago with Department of Defense funding, according to Olson. (Lailani Upham photo)
“We got to deliver and have it ready for flight in May of 2014,” Olson said.
As of this week, the project is in its last phase and series of tests are being finalized to certify the spacecraft is ready for flight.
“It will have to survive extreme temperatures and we got to make sure parts don’t fly off.”
There are some minor things that need “tweeking” to transition into the last phase of testing and it could be finalized as soon as next week, Olson added.
The SKC CubeSat team has also built a backup satellite in case of any space disaster.
The mission launch is expected to happen in December 2014 from Vandenberg Air Force Base or Cape Canaveral Air Force Base near Kennedy Space Center.