Arizona Daily Wildcat February 2, 1998
UA student engineers are petitioning NASA to give their satellite a free ride to outer space.
The satellite, still in the conceptual stages, is part of a student-science project aimed toward studying sprites, unexplained red glows that rise above thunderclouds during storms.
Students hope the satellite can get a piggy-back launch on a NASA space shuttle's Hitchhiker Ejection System, said Chris Lewicki, aerospace and mechanical engineering graduate student and student satellite project head.
Lewicki said he is optimistic they will get NASA's approval for the launch.
"It's a good opportunity to show a group of college students at a university have the capability to do real science and real work," he said.
The satellite will be ready for launch in 2000 - just when NASA will be helping build the International Space Station, a collaborative project between several nations to build a lab in outer space, Lewicki said.
"Our satellite could literally be just a few feet from some of the hardware for the International Space Station," he said.
Once in space, the satellite will orbit the earth once every 90 minutes, sometimes pointed toward distant stars to assess their brightness, Lewicki said.
The idea for the fully student-built and designed satellite came up casually during a November 1996 lunch between physics Professor Ke Chiang Hsieh and aerospace and mechanical engineering faculty.
"We were munching our pizza and I asked them, 'You guys in aerospace engineering - you ever build a satellite?'" said Hsieh, mentor for the satellite project. "They said 'no,' so I said, 'Let's do it.'"
The satellite passed its conceptual design review in November, when 17 student proposals were reviewed and ideas were culled from each by a panel of professors and top industry engineers.
The project is now moving into the preliminary design phase where different aspects of the satellite - from radio control to structure and stress - are split among seven teams that will formulate and test designs in the laboratory.
The seven plans eventually will be pulled together to build the satellite, which will be able to be controlled from a radio station atop the Engineering building. The radio station was built to guide the University of Alabama-Huntsville's student-built SEDSat satellite.
The 150-pound satellite will surpass the SEDSat and Arizona State University's student-built ASUSat satellite in size, Lewicki said.
Hsieh said students swiftly came on the project and enthusiastically pushed it forward in a short amount of time.
Lewicki said students are excited because the project is a shot at doing real-world design - far different from class projects like building a better doorstop.
"After you do those design projects, they go in the closet," he said. "Here, we get to apply stuff people only get to do in big corporate places."
A free ride from NASA would cut costs greatly for the $1.5 million project, Lewicki said, after factoring costs for student stipends and travel expenditures.
About $10,000 is needed to launch one pound of anything into space, which would make the cost of launching the 150-pound satellite too much, Lewicki said.
The project exists day to day on student grants and donations from university colleges.
Creighton Anderson, a structure and stress team member, brought in a $1,000 grant from NASA so he could continue with the project.
"I never dreamed I'd develop a satellite, yet here we are," said Anderson, a material sciences junior.
The group filed approval papers this week with NASA's Wes Huntress, associate administrator for space science.