New Space and Tech

Students Testing Building Blocks for Spacecraft on NASA Rocket Flight

By Keith Cowing
April 8, 2013
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WALLOPS ISLAND, Va., — Not much bigger than a child’s toy block, two spacecraft designed and built by university students in Kentucky and California will fly in space for a short period this month to gather information that may be applied to future small Earth orbiting space vehicles.

The spacecraft will fly on a NASA suborbital Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket between 6 and 9 a.m.(EST), March 11, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The backup launch days are March 12 and 13.
The two spacecraft, also known as cubesats, will be ejected during the suborbital flight at approximately 77 miles altitude, 72 seconds into the flight. NASA is flying the cubesats as secondary experiments on the flight which has a main purpose of testing the Improved Malemute rocket motor.

James Lumpp, Director of Space Systems Laboratory at the University of Kentucky and faculty advisor for the project, said, “This is the first time cubesats will be ejected in space on a suborbital trajectory. This capability of leveraging the cubesat satellite standard on a NASA sounding rocket could open a whole new chapter in fast, inexpensive access to space for small payloads.”

Students from Kentucky Space (a consortium of Kentucky universities) and California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, built the cubesats using primarily off-the-shelf components. The standard cubesat, a miniaturized satellite for space research, weighs around 2 pounds and is a 4-inch cube. Students from Cal Poly developed the cubesat ejection system used for the flight and students at the University of Kentucky adapted it to work in the sounding rocket.

The Kentucky cubesat, called ADAMASat, was developed by students to allow experimentation with hardware and software subsystems they intend to fly in an orbital cubesat called KySat-1 that will be launched with the NASA Glory mission no earlier than November 2010. The subsystems include an antenna deployment system and power conditioning circuitry. The Cal Poly cubesat, developed as a test bed for Poly-Sat bus technologies, will be testing an attitude determination system.

Kentucky Space is a consortium of universities including: University of Kentucky, Morehead State University, University of Louisville, Murray State University, and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Students will staff several ground stations at Wallops, as well as stations at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Morehead State University and at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., to capture the telemetry during the flight. In addition, students will distribute software packages for amateur radio enthusiasts to participate in the project.

Amateur radio operators can get details on how to participate on the Internet at:

For information on the launch status by Twitter, visit:

The launch will be web cast, beginning at 5 a.m. (EST) on launch day, at:

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