BU Today

Science & Tech

It Really Is Rocket Science at ENG

Part one: BU engineering students design and build a satellite

Click above to view a slide show about ENG student Kyle Winters’ work on a satellite being designed and built by BU students.

This summer, while many college students went to the beach, a few dozen BU engineering students headed off to space. More than 60 undergraduates are currently designing and building BU’s entry in the University Nanosatellite Program, a competition sponsored by the U.S. Air Force, and about half of them got started on the project this summer.

Every other year, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research gives about 10 university teams the chance to design and build a satellite, guaranteeing the winners a launch. The plan is for the BU satellite to hover over the aurora borealis, known as the northern lights, which are produced when particles from radiation belts hundreds of miles out in space interact with Earth’s atmosphere. The measurements and images taken by the satellite are intended to test and enhance an existing computer model of these auroras, as part of an effort to better predict space weather that can damage spacecraft electronics and disrupt communication networks such as pagers and cell phones.

The project is being overseen by Theodore Fritz, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of astronomy, a handful of other professors, and doctoral student David Voss (ENG ’09), but the design, the engineering, and the presentations are being done by the undergrads. They are working in about a dozen teams on the satellite’s different subsystems, such as the probes and imaging equipment, the ground control station that will be housed at BU, and the orbital adjustment system. BU Today will check in on their progress periodically throughout the year.

First up is Kyle Winters (ENG’09), who is pulling double duty as a member of two subsystem teams. One group is building the solar arrays that will power the satellite. The other will create the project’s required educational component, a curriculum to teach local high school students how to build a satellite’s thermal probe. We’ll also hear from Jeannette Hancock (ENG’08), whose “attitude” subsystem team is designing a system to keep the satellite’s probes and sensors pointed in the right direction as it orbits, and Fabio Malangone (ENG’09), who is working with the ground support equipment team. Their task: to inspect, test, calibrate, adjust, and repair every system that will come together in the nanosatellite.

Winters seems relatively unfazed by the long hours he and his team members put in over the summer. After all, he says, “this is exactly what I’m going to school for.”

To read "Part two: With deadlines in mind, students take an "attitude" check" click here.

To read "Part three: Getting to ‘all systems go’" click here.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.