Taking Up Space

Students don't ordinarily build satellites. And satellites aren't usually launched in Alaska. But Starshine-3 and PC-Sat are not your ordinary satellites. On August 31st, Starshine-3, built with the help of hundreds of grade school students from around the world, and PC-Sat, designed and built from scratch by Naval Academy midshipmen in their spare time, will blast off aboard an Athena I solid-fuel rocket at the Kodiak Alaska Launch Complex on their way to outer space.

Starshine-3 was designed and built 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. The one-meter diameter sphere carries a battery, a transmitter/receiver, solar cells, two antennas, and is covered with more than a thousand mirrors. These mirrors were hand-polished by students around the world using diamond paste and sandpaper. After a protective coating was applied to each, the mirrors were sent to the Lab for installation on the satellite. Starshine-3 will also flight demonstrate a battery that is integrated onto a solar cell and a new, innovative lightweight satellite ejection system.

Once this satellite is launched, students will be able to follow it as it passes overhead by observing the sunlight flashing off all those mirrors. Precise timing of those observations will be used to measure the orbital decay of the satellite, and the density of the upper atmosphere can therefore be deduced. More information on Starshine-3.

Meanwhile, at the Naval Academy, Lieutenant Colonel (USAF) Billy Smith challenged his engineering and aerospace students to get out of the classroom and into the lab to design, build, command, control, and write the operational plans for a satellite that would actually be useful. Starting with $44,000 worth of parts and a grant from The Boeing Company, five midshipmen came up with PC-SAT, short for Prototype Communications Satellite. Bristling with antennas and circuitry, and only about the size of a large lunchbox, they designed PC-Sat as a worldwide position/status reporting and message communications satellite for the amateur radio operator community. It will be the first satellite capable of broadcasting its current location to listeners on the ground. It will also be used to track and status monitor the Academy's squadron of training vessels. The Naval Research Laboratory performed testing on the satellite.

"First pass over Annapolis will occur around 7 a.m. on September 1st," says Paul Regeon, head of ONR's Space Science and Technology Division. "There's sure to be some happy midshipmen up extra early that day."

The launch of both these satellites - the first ever from the Kodiak Complex to place satellites in orbit - will be aired live on NASA Select Satellite TV.

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