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Boston University Students Meet NASA’s Challenge to Develop, Build and Launch Satellite

(Boston, Mass) — Undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty at Boston University are eagerly anticipating the launch of the satellite they built on campus. Scheduled to launch April 18 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc, Calif., the TERRIERS satellite will use a unique combination of space and ground-based instruments combined with tomographic techniques to create unprecedented three-dimensional images of the ionosphere.

TERRIERS is part of NASA’s Student Explorer Demonstration Initiative (STEDI), administered by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) of Columbia, Md. STEDI addresses the ongoing challenge of making orbital science accessible to students and helps fulfill NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin’s promise to develop "faster, cheaper, better" methods of space exploration.

"We proved that we could produce high quality science in a University setting at a fraction of the cost of a traditional mission," says Professor Supriya Chakrabarti, co-investigator of the TERRIERS project. "At the same time we have been able to offer students an invaluable opportunity — to learn first hand what it takes to develop, build and launch a satellite." More than 60 Boston University students and faculty have been involved in the science, theory, design, instrument development and testing of the TERRIERS satellite, named in honor of the B.U. mascot, the Boston terrier.

The ionosphere, beginning at an altitude of about 30 nautical miles and extending to beyond 600 nautical miles (1,000 km), is one of the least understood parts of the atmosphere surrounding the Earth. Conditions in this region are complex and turbulent, responding to forces originating on the sun that move toward Earth and interact with Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists have coined the phrase "space weather" to describe the changing conditions in this area, including the massive radiation storms that can damage communications satellites, interfere with power grids on earth, and pose a significant threat to astronauts who might be caught in a storm while working outside their spacecraft.

"There is an increasing need to understand this environment as changing conditions in the ionosphere affect transmissions from communication satellites—impacting devices such as cell phones, beepers, and global positioning systems," said Dan Cotton, TERRIERS principal investigator and assistant research professor of space physics at Boston University. Space weather can also have an adverse affect on other orbiting spacecraft, including NASA’s Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

TERRIERS will give scientists very accurate information about the changing conditions in this area. The satellite’s polar orbit and observing strategy slices the ionosphere to create high resolution, three-dimensional views of the atmosphere, using techniques similar to CT scans or MRIs that synthesize three-dimensional images of the human body from views taken at various levels, or slices, through the body. Like the radar weather images that we see on the nightly news, these "space weather" images may some day be used in conjunction with modeling programs to forecast weather systems in space.

TERRIERS is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on April 18 at 10 p.m. PDT (1 a.m. EDT, April 20) on board a Pegasus rocket. Initial contact with the satellite will occur as the spacecraft passes directly over Boston on April 19 at 9 a.m. EDT.

Further information and images of the TERRIERS mission are available at:

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April 8, 1999

14 April 1999
Center for Space Physics
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