The project is part of NASA’s CubeSat launch initiative, a grant to help universities and non-profit organizations conduct experiments.
After the satellite passed all of NASA’s safety and quality standards, the launch costs were covered by NASA.
The purpose of the satellite is to test this boom technology on a small scale, to see if it could help to stabilize the orbits of larger objects.
The satellite, known as the Get Away Special Passive Attitude Control Satellite, or GASPACS, is a four-inch cube, equipped with a small camera and an inflatable boom.
On Dec. 20, before the sun was up, members of the Get Away Special team, or GAS, at Utah State University were watching the launch of a rocket into space carrying a satellite they had built and designed entirely themselves.
According to the team’s website, USU is responsible for designing and constructing the satellite, along with the associated costs.
Professor Jan Sojka, head of the physics department, has been working with the team as an advisor since 1978.
According to him, his job is to make sure the team doesn’t try to do anything too dangerous.
“I try to provide an environment for these enthusiastic students who want to build things, and I make sure they don’t spend too much money, and I try to keep them safe,” Sojka said. “These students have gone beyond what they would be learning in their classes, so my job isn’t to mentor them in that specific way but to provide an opportunity for them to learn these things themselves.” The team’s proposal was approved in 2014, and students have come and gone in the nearly eight years that the project has taken.
“Therein lies the fun of the whole thing,” Sojka said “Not every student is able to see something fly in the three or four years they are on the team, but they are able to learn and interact as a group. Not necessarily launch something but work hard and actually learn about the technology by speaking with NASA engineers or aerospace engineers.” There are 20-30 active members on the GAS team, all undergrads.
They are currently led by senior Jack Danos. After he graduates, the team will be taken over by former mechanical team leader, Carter Page. According to Page, his experience on the team has been extremely valuable.
And now that the launch was deemed successful, the students are waiting to communicate with the satellite. It will be ejected from the International Space Station and complete a couple of orbits before it passes over Cache Valley.
Students on the team learned through hands-on experience of testing and designing the satellite, as well as getting advice from NASA and other aerospace engineers. “The hardest part about building these satellites is there’s a lot of questions that aren’t easily answered,” Page said. “One of the most rewarding things and one of the most challenging things is trying and testing different solutions to find those answers.”