UND’s homegrown miniature satellite ranked atop the list of all NASA proposals

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UND’s homegrown miniature satellite ranked atop the list of all NASA proposals

It could be a kid’s LEGO® creation, about the size of a detergent box.

Don’t be fooled.

The University of North Dakota’s OpenOrbiter One CubeSat — recently given a “go for launch” by NASA — is a space-based research device capable of much more than its diminutive size lets on.

“We got awarded a launch, very exciting, indeed,” said Computer Science Ph.D. candidate Jeremy Straub, who’s coordinating the University’s CubeSat project. “We expect that it’ll be integrated into a U.S. launch vehicle for an International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission. It’ll go out from the ISS NanoRacks CubeSat launch facility.”

The UND CubeSat led the list of projects of its kind selected by NASA.

“Our proposal was chosen as the top selection nationwide for 2014-2015,” Straub said. (See NASA list ranking this year’s CubeSat project selections)

Straub says part of the mission — once the UND CubeSat is in orbit — is to fly over Grand Forks, where it will be able to capture imagery and be able to download its data to a receiving and control station located in the UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences’ Streibel Hall.

The number of students involved in the CubeSat project, at any one time, has ranged from under ten to 40 or 50. Over the course of the program’s life, about 80 students have been involved directly and an additional 100 or so have been involved more peripherally, Straub explains.

“We’ve gotten people from all over the place, every college and a smattering of departments, including the College of Business & Public Administration, the School of Medicine & Health Sciences, and the School of Law, involved,” said Computer Science Department chair Ron Marsh, who serves as principal investigator on the launch proposal. “It’s a great experience.”

The CubeSat concept — which originated in the late 1990s at Stanford University and California Polytechnic — is about learning by doing.

“This will be North Dakota’s first spacecraft,” Straub said. “We’re also collaborating on the payload with a faculty member and a few students from Northland Community and Technical College based in Minnesota.”

CubeSats, to date, have largely been targeted at low-Earth orbit.

“The altitude that the spacecraft is launched into and the current level of solar pressure determine the orbit, given the small satellite’s characteristics,” Straub said. “Operational life may range from a few months to a few years; however, longer missions are possible.”

CubeSats typically receive an orbit that is pretty close to the orbit of the primary spacecraft that they are “catching a ride” with.

UND’s CubeSat has been manifested on a rocket for a March 2016 launch, with a December spacecraft handover date.

Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer

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