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Congressman Daines gets preview of SKC’s CubeSat project

by Lailani Upham

Tim Olson and Thomas Trickel, SKC Computer Engineering faculty share information with Congressman Daines last Friday on the NASA-funded projects SKC is involved with, the Mars Science Laboratory mission, and the CubeSat satellite project. (Courtesy photo) Tim Olson and Thomas Trickel, SKC Computer Engineering faculty share information with Congressman Daines last Friday on the NASA-funded projects SKC is involved with, the Mars Science Laboratory mission, and the CubeSat satellite project. (Courtesy photo)

PABLO — Montana Congressman Steve Daines joined Salish Kootenai College President Robert DePoe, III to tour the SKC campus – specifically the Computer Engineering program.

According to Daines, as an engineer who helped grow a Bozeman-based software company with more than 1,000 employees, he understands the importance of ensuring Montana students receive the training needed to pursue careers in Montana’s technology sector.

Daines says he was excited to learn that the SKC CubeSat that will be launched next year is the first NASA flight mission with a tribal college as the principal investigator. He was also excited to see the college’s commitment to providing students with the best academic experience possible with the access to technology.

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.

SKC is one of 33 higher education institutions across the nation to have their satellite design selected by NASA, 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 college to launch a CubeSat satellite.

In December 2010,SKC began a new three-year “CubeSat” project. CubeSats are small satellites in the shape of a 10-centimeter cube used by universities, government agencies, and private businesses for low-cost access to Earth’s orbit.

Olson explains that CubeSats are carried to orbit as secondary payloads on government and commercial launches. They are especially effective for providing undergraduate students with the opportunity to participate in a space flight mission. NASA recognized the value of CubeSats in developing the next generation of space scientists and engineers, and provides opportunities for colleges and universities to launch CubeSats on NASA missions.

According to the computer engineering team at SKC, the tribal college CubeSat will be solar powered and carry an SKC-designed camera and a radio for receiving commands and transmitting data. The primary purpose of the SKC CubeSat mission is educational, but also has a science objective of using broadband visible light orbital imagery to study atmospheric aerosols, cloud formation, and various hydrologic processes. Also, according to Olson, the camera system design will build on the experience gained by SKC students and faculty with its NASA High Altitude Student Platform Wide Field Camera designed for HASP Flight 5. The SKC CubeSat will be operated from a satellite communications ground station built at SKC.

“I appreciate President DePoe, students and staff taking the time to share with me the exciting opportunities and programs available at Salish Kootenai College. SKC is doing an incredible job at preparing students for jobs in Montana’s growing technology sector and providing students with the skills they need to make a difference in their communities and our state,” stated Daines.

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