Press Release

Lancaster Area High Schoolers Build Satellite Mockup with Caltech Scholar’s Help

By SpaceRef Editor
May 22, 2001
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Last fall, 32 Littlerock High School students
weren’t thinking about their new textbooks and teachers, instead they
were focused on the satellite they had to finish building before June.

With the help of California Institute of Technology postdoctoral
scholar Ravinder Bhatia, the students designed and built a satellite
mockup that, if deployed, would observe stratospheric ozone depletion
in the northern hemisphere over a three-year period.

The students, who recently completed the satellite, will give a
presentation to Caltech faculty members and researchers, Jet
Propulsion Laboratory engineers, and a TRW engineer in Beckman
Institute Auditorium, on the Caltech campus, from 10 a.m. to noon on
May 24. They will also present their mission design and bring the
satellite mockup for inspection.

Many of the students, who hail from classes in astronomy and
chemistry taught by Lee Syer, are ethnic minorities and most come
>from economically disadvantaged homes. They are mostly juniors and
seniors, with a few sophomores mixed in.

Bhatia, a postdoctoral scholar in observational cosmology, has
advised the students on the technical and managerial aspects of the
project, which has been built at Littlerock High, east of Lancaster,
and in the Caltech physics machine shop.

Bhatia has been to the school about once a month, sometimes
accompanied by another postdoctoral scholar, Brian Keating, and the
physics machine shop supervisor, Ricardo Paniagua, since October
2000. Bhatia also has arranged tours of JPL and the Owens Valley
Radio Observatory for the students.

His goal was to give the students real-world problems and encourage
them to discover solutions on their own, as opposed to lecturing to
them. “I also wanted to show them some of the opportunities out there
that they could pursue, and I wanted to encourage them to go to
college.”

He said it was difficult for the students to understand that he was a
resource for the project but not the answerman. “It is the first time
that they have been in that kind of position,” he said. They also
learned the importance of communication and teamwork. “Learning by
participating and experiencing has been much more exciting, valuable,
and productive for them.”

The students gained an understanding of the complexities of satellite
telemetry, payload, and launch, as well as thermal, mechanical, and
electrical design. They now have substantial experience in making
presentations, graphic design, editing, and time management that they
didn’t have before starting the project. “They’ve had to do so much
work on this on top of all their other studies. It has definitely
inspired a lot of them to pursue their careers, whether it is in
science or the arts. The main thing for me has been to see them grow
in confidence and see what they really can create if given the
opportunity and a little encouragement,” he said.

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CONTACT: Jill Perry, Media Relations Director

(626) 395-3226

jperry@caltech.edu

SpaceRef staff editor.