ONR Science & Technology Focus
               Oceanography       Space Sciences       Blow the Ballast!       Teachers' Corner   
Observing the Sky Solar System Satellites Navy Research Resources

Space Sciences: The Navy & Satellites - Starshine 3

Purpose: Study and measure the effects of extreme solar ultraviolet radiation on satellite orbital decay so scientists can improve their orbital decay prediction codes.

Launched: Kodiak, Alaska, September 29, 2001

Launch vehicle: Athena 1 Launch Vehicle

Orbit: 294 miles (470 km), 67-degree inclination
This orbit was chosen to make the satellite visible to observers located from the equator all the way up to latitudes of 70 degrees north and south of the equator.

Size: 37-inch sphere, 200 pounds (91 kilograms)

Characteristics and Instrumentation:

  • Carried 1500 mirrors that were polished by approximately 40,000 students in 1000 schools in 30 countries
  • Carried thirty-one laser retro-reflectors on its surface to permit the International Satellite Laser Ranging Network to track it
  • integrated power supply (combined solar cells and thin film batteries)
  • amateur radio telemetry transmitter
  • a command receiver
  • a rechargeable battery
  • a secondary solar array
  • signal-conditioning circuitry
  • an antenna array

Made possible by: The Naval Research Laboratory, 40,000 students around the world, many volunteer organizations and individuals, and NASA.

Re-entry: Starshine 3 burned up in the Earth's atmosphere between 05:40 and 05:34 UT, January 22, 2003, after completing 7434 revolutions around the Earth. Solar activity shortened the satellite's life by nearly a year.

What did the mirrors do? Sunlight hitting the mirrors of the orbiting satellite flashed every two seconds. These flashes were visible just after sunset and just before sunrise as far north as Point Barrow, Alaska, and as far south as McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

The students who polished the mirrors helped study orbital decay by tracking the satellite. Researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, are using information from the Starshine satellites to better understand satellite orbits.