Blasting off: Students build satellite

By Drew Teague

UK engineering students will make a delivery to the final frontier in the near future.

Since 2006, students working with the Space Systems Lab have been designing, building and prepping a cube satellite for its flight into space, which could be as soon as February.

Electrical and computer engineering Professor Dr. James Lumpp helped the students on their mission to create a small satellite that could be put into space and communicate with the students on the ground.

“The project started in 2006 when a team of students spent the summer at NASA Ames research center learning all about CubeSats an emerging international standard for small satellites,” Lumpp said.

The project continued back in Kentucky with aspects of the design of the satellite and ground station facilities being used as class projects and research projects for undergraduate and graduate engineering and science students, Lumpp said.

Daniel Erb, a master’s student in electrical engineering, has worked on this satellite for a while and is pleased with its purpose.

“It’s a 10 centimeter by 10 centimeter by 10 centimeter cube that fits inside a standard deplorer,” Erb said. “Our satellite is designed to do educational outreach and technological demonstration.”

As the name of the satellite states, it is the first satellite that the state will put into space, completely built by students across the Commonwealth, Lumpp said.

“The satellite, Kentucky Satellite-1, is the first free-flying, orbital satellite the lab has developed and is the result of a state-wide collaboration between Kentucky universities, including U of L, Morehead, Murray, and WKU, coordinated by the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, a non-profit corporation focused on high-technology and innovation in Kentucky,” Lumpp said.

Because of the nature of the field they are working in, Erb said the students have had peaks and lulls in the work load over the course of the four years they have been working on the project, working towards a projected launch that never happened.

“We started out building it without any concept of when a launch would be,” Erb said. “We tried to do as much as we can because we thought we’d have a launch date…but that date slips.”

Something of this magnitude will be a great accomplishment to those who have worked over it, especially being able to see and communicate with their work while it is floating around the earth, Erb said.

“To be able to design something and then actually build it and see if come into fruition, see it pass all the testing, then finally have it launched into space and hear it from space on the ground, and to actually be able to communicate with something you build is an experience unlike anything else,”  Erb said.

With the launch date looming, last minute preparations are being made to ship the cube satellite across the country for its journey into space.

“KYSat-1 will travel to California Polytechnic State University on Monday to be integrated into a standardized satellite launcher and to undergo final flight qualification vibration testing,” said Lumpp. “From there it will travel to Vanderbilt Air Force Base where it will be integrated onto a Taurus-XL rocket for a Feb. 22, 2011 launch.”