Mirror, Mirror, on the Ball

Starshine-2, the third in a programmed series of mirror-covered satellites built with help by students from around the world, will be launched from the Space Shuttle Endeavor on November 29th. Two other similar satellites have already been launched and placed in orbit (Starshine-1 was launched in 1999, and Starshine-3 was opportunistically launched from Alaska in September this year).

Kids don't ordinarily help the Navy build its satellites, but this satellite is different. Starshine-2 was designed by the Naval Research Laboratory's Spacecraft Engineering Department as a fixed-point satellite to help calibrate "The Fence" - the Navy's space surveillance network that tracks the thousands of objects that are now orbiting the Earth. But, in order to be able to observe it's orbital decay in real-time (and thereby learn more about the density of the upper atmosphere), the half-meter diameter sphere needed to be covered with nearly a thousand mirrors

For the last 2 years, students from as far away as Pakistan, New Zealand, Brazil and India, as well as from the States, have been hand-polishing little round mirrors with diamond paste and sandpaper, and sending them in to the Lab for installation on Starshine-2. The whole idea of getting students worldwide involved was the brainchild of Gil Moore, a retired aerospace engineer who had worked with the Naval Research Laboratory in the 1940s and 50s.

"Once this satellite is launched by astronauts aboard Endeavor, students will be able to follow it as it passes across the skies by observing the sunlight flashing off all those mirrors overhead," says Bill Braun at the Lab. To find out when and where it will be visible, kids can go to http://www.heavens-above.com .

More information on the Starshine Satellite Project - such as names and locations of participating students - is located at http://azinet.com/starshine.

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