NASA, which has been working with Robertsville Middle School, announced Friday that the Oak Ridge Schools project is one of 11 small research satellites selected to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard space missions in the next few years.
The satellite projects were selected from seven states and Puerto Rico. They are eligible for placement on a launch manifest, depending on the availability of a flight opportunity, for space missions planned in 2019, 2020, and 2021, NASA said.
The Oak Ridge project, RamSat, is an education mission to develop and implement a middle school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, curriculum for building a CubeSat. CubeSats are a type of spacecraft called nanosatellites, often measuring about four inches on each side and weighing less than three pounds. They have a volume of about one quart. CubeSats are built using these standard dimensions as Units or “U,” and are classified as 1U, 2U, 3U, or 6U in total size.
The selections, which were announced Friday, are part of the ninth round of the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative.
The launch opportunities for the 11 small research satellites include planned spaceflight missions led by NASA, other U.S. government agencies, or commercial organizations, as well as deployments from the International Space Station. The CubeSats were proposed by educational institutions, or nonprofit organizations.
After launch, satellites will perform technology demonstrations, conduct scientific investigations, or provide educational benefits, NASA said.
NASA recognized the satellite work of Robertsville Middle School on the home page of its website in January. (See previous story here.) The project is part of an effort by NASA to encourage learning in STEM.
The partnership that was recognized involves Robertsville Middle School and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and work on a small one-unit cube satellite, or 1U CubeSat.
Patrick Hull, technical assistant for the Structural and Mechanical Design Branch of the Engineering Directorate at Marshall, helped with the collaboration, which is in the community where he grew up. He partnered with Robertsville Middle School STEM teacher Todd Livesay. They created a project that had students design and 3-D print the small one-unit cube satellite.
Once completed, the students presented their project at Marshall in front of Hull and a panel of fellow engineers.
For the 2017 class mission, students chose a cause that is near to their hearts, NASA said. In 2016, wildfires ravaged communities in Gatlinburg, in the mountains about 1.5 hours southeast of Oak Ridge, taking the lives of 14 residents and leaving more than 2,500 homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. To help Gatlinburg and other communities affected by the wildfires, the Robertsville students set out to develop a CubeSat capable of deploying a camera and radio in space to observe and communicate the regrowth pattern of vegetation after a widespread fire. This information can be used to help communities regrow after destruction, NASA said.
The students submitted their completed project in proposal form to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative to compete for a spot to fly on a future launch. Through that initiative, NASA provides universities, high schools, and nonprofit organizations access to a low-cost pathway to conduct research in the areas of science, exploration, technology development, education, or operations.
In January, NASA said it was planning to make its next round of CubeSat selections in a month or so.
“We sought to invest in our community and influence middle school students by exposing them to exciting STEM careers at NASA,” Hull said. “To have had an opportunity in junior high to work with a group of engineers from NASA would have been very motivating to me.”
At many schools, this type of unique experience in STEM fields was only available in an extracurricular environment, NASA said.
“The mentors from NASA encouraged our students to talk about their project in a conversational manner rather than memorizing for a presentation,” said Holly Cross, career and technical education supervisor for the Oak Ridge Schools. “The value of skills learned by our students in this program spans more than just STEM disciplines…Our English teachers have commented on how their presentation skills have developed and matured as a result of their interaction with the NASA engineers.”
NASA said it is on a mission to inspire young minds to become the next generation of critical thinkers, and it is engaging students in space exploration, encouraging learning in STEM in a way that “fosters hands-on learning and discovery.”
“As more states incorporate STEM-focused education into their standards, we assist teachers by developing curriculum support materials that help them meet the standards while making learning fun for their students,” said Susan Currie, education specialist at Marshall.
In Oak Ridge, Marshall staff assisted in curriculum development that incorporated unique NASA resources, and then trained teachers to use the resources for a new elective engineering course called NASA Project-Based Learning. Marshall engineers also serve as mentors to students in the course, NASA said.
The sponsoring organizations and projects for the ninth round announced Friday are:
- AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, Kensington, Maryland
- Greater Orbit, Larger Footprint — Technology Exploration Environment (GOLF-TEE) is a technology demonstration mission to validate components of an attitude determination and control system. Ragnarok Industries developed the system for the Lunar Heimdallr 6U CubeSat, a NASA Cube Quest Challenge finalist.
- Greater Orbit, Larger Footprint — Mission 1 (GOLF-1) is an educational mission that will host two-way amateur radio communications, analog and digital transponders, and two experiment payloads provided by students.
- Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
- Alpha is a technology demonstration mission to deploy a 1x1m light sail with four tiny “chipsats” called Sprites attached.
- Pathfinder for Autonomous Navigation (PAN) is a technology demonstration to launch two 3U CubeSats that will autonomously rendezvous and dock in low-Earth orbit.
- Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona — EagleSat-2 is a scientific investigation focused on detecting cosmic ray particles and studying the effects of solar radiation on various types of random access memory in a memory degradation experiment.
- Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Bayamon — Puerto Rico CubeSat NanoRocks-2 (PR-CuNaR2) is a scientific investigation to increase understanding of the outcomes of relevant collisions among millimeter-sized particles, or “pebbles”, in a protoplanetary disk.
- Oak Ridge Public Schools, Oak Ridge, Tennessee — RamSat is an education mission to develop and implement a middle school STEM curriculum for building a CubeSat.
- University of California, Davis — Quad Amateur Radio Communications Satellite (QuARCS) is a technology demonstration mission to test the capabilities of the Iridium and Globalstar radio communication satellite arrays when using a transmitter at an altitude of approximately 550 kilometer.
- University of Cincinnati, Ohio — Low Earth Orbit Platform for Aerospace Research and Development CubeSat (LEOPARDSat-1) is an educational mission to teach in-depth space mission and systems engineering to undergraduate and high school students.
- University High School, Irvine, California — The IRVINE03 mission is an education effort to teach, train, and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals, while creating opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM-related fields. It will include a technology demonstration of an X-ray Cadmium Zinc Telluride (CZT) sensor and electrospray thrusters.
- University of Kansas, Lawrence — KUbeSat-1 is a science investigation mission that will use a primary cosmic ray detector to further understand exposure in Earth’s ionosphere and its effect on crewed missions.
During the review process, the committee also prioritized 10 previously selected NASA CubeSat missions:
- The Aerospace Corporation, Los Angeles — Low-Latitude Ionosphere/Thermosphere Enhancements in Density (LLITED) is a scientific investigation mission that will provide the first coincident measurements of Earth’s dusk-side thermosphere/ionosphere at lower altitudes, providing a detailed examination of the equatorial temperature and wind anomaly.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge — CubeSat Laser Infrared CrosslinK (CLICK) is a technology demonstration mission of two 3U full-duplex laser communication terminals capable of supporting data rates of up to 20 megabytes per second at separations from 25 kilometer to 580 kilometer.
- NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California
- NASA’s Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator (PTD)-2 is a technology demonstration mission to flight qualify and characterize a novel thruster provided by Tethers Unlimited Inc., which uses electrolyzed water as fuel for a small thruster.
- TechEdSat-10 is a 3U CubeSat that will function as a high temperature, accurate deorbit reentry nanosatellite.
- AztechSat-1 is a technology demonstration that will use the low-Earth orbit satellite constellation Globalstar for satellite phone and low-speed data communications.
- NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama — Scintillation Prediction Observations Research Task (SPORT) is a scientific investigation mission to understand preconditions leading to plasma bubbles near Earth’s geomagnetic equator. These are the primary source of radar reflections in the equatorial F-region ionosphere and cause strong scintillations on radio signals passing through them.
- Ohio University, Athens — Bobcat-1 is a technology demonstration to measure time offsets between global navigation satellite systems using a CubeSat to create a precise time reference in orbit.
- University of California, Los Angeles — Electron Losses and Fields Investigation’s Spatio-Temporal Ambiguity Resolver (ELFIN*, pronounced “elfin star”) is a scientific investigation to resolve the role of electromagnetic ion cyclotron waves for relativistic electron precipitation from the Van Allen radiation belts during geomagnetic storms and substorms. This is a key question for space weather.
- University of Colorado, Boulder — The Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment (CUTE) is a scientific investigation to study the atmospheric properties of planets orbiting other stars.
- University of Michigan, Ann Arbor — Measurement of Actuator Response and Impedance on Orbit (MARIO) is a technology demonstration flight to characterize the behavior and degradation of macro-fiber composite materials under actuation and structural health monitoring configurations.
So far, the CubeSat Launch Initiative has selected 158 CubeSats from 39 states and launched 59 CubeSat missions as part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) through NASA’s Launch Services Program. This year marked the agency’s first CubeSat Launch Initiative selections from Kansas and Puerto Rico.
For more information on how to apply for a launch opportunity through the NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative, visit
The NASA story was posted Friday and edited by Shanessa Jackson.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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