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The Launching Pad: Attitude Check

Part two of a series of dispatches from the BU nanosatellite team

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

This summer, while many college students are heading to the beach, some BU engineering students are heading to space. More than 60 undergraduates are designing and building BU’s entry in the University Nanosatellite Program, a U.S. Air Force–sponsored competition, and about half of them are working through the summer.

Every other year, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research gives about 10 teams from different universities  the chance to design and build a satellite, and it guarantees the winners a launch. The BU satellite is intended 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 the Earth’s atmosphere. The measurements and images recorded by the satellite would 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 all being done by the undergrads, who 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 is checking in on their progress as they prepare to face a panel of Air Force, NASA, and industry satellite experts in a preliminary design review on August 17.

Earlier this month, we heard from Kyle Winters (ENG’09), who is helping to build the solar arrays that will power the satellite and also working on the project’s required educational component, a curriculum to teach local high school students how to build a satellite’s thermal probe. 

In this installment, Jeanette Hancock (ENG’08), who is working on the satellite’s “attitude” control system (i.e., keeping the craft and its various instruments properly oriented as it orbits the Earth), talks about the project. We next check in with Fabio Malangone (ENG’09) who’s 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.

With less than a month to go before the preliminary design review, Hancock is confident that the BU group will be ready. “I definitely don’t feel like we have plenty of time,” she says. “But I also don’t feel like we’re crunched and we’re not going to make our deadline.”

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