BU to Launch a Satellite in the Final Round of a US Air Force Space Challenge

in ECE Spotlight Student, NEWS, Spotlight Student

One of Six Teams Selected

By Gabriella McNevin

ANDESITE team presenting their satellite to a team of judges at the Air Force Final Competition Review (FCR) in Albuquerque, NM, February 2015.   BU was one of 6 schools out of 16 selected to move on.
ANDESITE team presenting their satellite to a team of judges at the Air Force Final Competition Review (FCR) in Albuquerque, NM, February 2015. BU was one of 6 schools out of 16 selected to move on.

ANDESITE, a task force within Boston University’s Small Satellite Program, qualified to launch a self-designed satellite into orbit. The ANDERSITE team is one of six that qualified for the final round of the US Air Force University Nanosat Program competition.

The ANDESITE satellite is on the forefront of an international movement to advance our understanding of “space weather” and its effects on society.  Space weather arises from interactions between the Earth’s plasma environment and the impinging solar wind.   These interactions can damage satellites, harm astronauts in space, render GPS information erratic and unreliable, disrupt ground-space communications, and even cause electricity blackouts on Earth.  In 2013, the White House raised inadequate space weather forecasting to the global agenda, citing the significant  “threat to modern systems posed by space weather events” and “the potential for “significant societal, economic, national security, and health impacts.”

The ANDESITE satellite has been designed to deploy a network of magnetic sensors from a central mother ship. The ejected sensors will operate collectively as a space-based wireless mesh network with the aim of studying fine-scale variations in Earth’s geomagnetic environment caused by space weather events.   The ANDESITE satellite’s scientific and technological innovations place it at the cutting edge of the burgeoning cubesat movement.

A computer generated image of the satellite.
A computer generated image of the satellite.

ANDESITE is a unique interdisciplinary university-wide collaboration.  The team of 16 students is comprised of Astronomy, Electrical, Computer, and Mechanical Engineering scholars. The group is under the guidance of two faculty advisors, Joshua Semeter (ECE/Photonics) and Ray Nagem (ME). Research Engineer Aleks Zosuls also provides support and acts as a liaison with the Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC).

The qualifying competition took place in the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February 2015. Now, the qualifiers must shift their focus from satellite fabrication to implementation. The University Nanosat Program will provide Air Force technical guidance and $110,000 to support each of the remaining six competitors.

After returning to Boston from New Mexico, ANDESITE advisor Professor Semeter recalled, “it was a stressful experience for the students with an exciting outcome.”

The University Nanosat Program provides hands-on experience for graduate and undergraduate students and an opportunity to create and launch a satellite with a specific research capacity. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics developed the program in 1999.