Space Hawk – UML Students Build NASA Satellite
If everything goes as planned, a small satellite designed and built by a team of UMass Lowell undergraduates will launch into orbit next year, circling Earth every 90 minutes while traveling about 17,000 mph.
More than 50 of the college’s science, engineering and business students are developing the SPACE HAUC satellite under the direction of physics Professor Supriya Chakrabarti, who leads the university’s Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology (LoCSST). Once the spacecraft is ready, NASA hopes to deploy the device for a yearlong mission to test its ability to collect and transmit research data at faster speeds than ever. The satellite’s name, pronounced “space hawk,” is a tip of the hat to UMass Lowell’s athletic teams, the River Hawks. The acronym stands for Science Program Around Communications Engineering with High Achieving Undergraduate Cadres.
The UMass Lowell team’s proposal to build the satellite received $200,000, the maximum amount of NASA funding available through the agency’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Project. The initiative engages college students across the country to flex their technical, leadership and project-management skills by offering them real-world opportunities relevant to NASA missions.
“SPACE HAUC allows UMass Lowell students to enter the space development field while still in school,” said the team’s project leader Alex Casperson, an electrical engineering major from Burlington. “I’m getting real-world engineering and systems management experience. I never thought I’d have this opportunity.”
SPACE HAUC is what’s known as a cube satellite or “CubeSat,” which is a miniaturized, low-cost alternative to larger models. The finished spacecraft will measure about a foot in length and 4 inches in both width and height — about the size of a large loaf of bread — and will weigh 9 pounds. Once launched, the satellite will reach altitudes of between 99 and 1,200 miles while circling the planet. Four solar panels will supply electricity to power the satellite.
The device’s goal is to transmit data at up to 50 to 100 megabits per second — significantly faster than current models. To test its data-transmission capabilities, it will collect images of the sun and return them to Earth.
“SPACE HAUC will be UMass Lowell’s first mission to actually go around the Earth, and the satellite will do so many, many times during its lifetime,” Chakrabarti said.
The team — which includes students from Dracut, Lowell, Tewksbury, North Andover and Westford, along with Londonderry, N.H. — is organized into four subgroups that focus on the electrical and mechanical engineering that’s needed to build the satellite, the computer science that drives its communication capabilities, and SPACE HAUC’s business concerns, including the project’s marketing and budget. The students have been building the satellite for just over a year, working on it even during the summer. NASA wants the finished device by March 2018, but the team hopes to complete SPACE HAUC by this December.
“Every piece of this has to be engineered to the finest detail,” said Jacob Hempel, a computer engineering student from Barnstable.
After SPACE HAUC’s mission is complete, the satellite will gradually fall back to Earth. As it reenters the atmosphere, aerodynamic stress and heating will cause the craft to disintegrate — an outcome that was one of the project’s requirements, as NASA works to avoid space debris, according to the students.
“A project of this magnitude and scope would not have been possible without the help and support of many parties, from writing the proposal to technical consultations,” Chakrabarti said. “SPACE HAUC represents a great collaboration between students and faculty, as well as the university’s administration, research centers and industry partners.”
SPACE HAUC collaborators include the Raytheon-UMass Lowell Research Institute, the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium and BAE Systems.
SPACE HAUC is one of many UMass Lowell research projects at LoCSST designed to develop communications technologies. This August, faculty members and graduate students were in the Midwest, conducting experiments that allowed them to study the effects of the solar eclipse on the upper atmosphere. Earlier this year, a SpaceX rocket carrying and spectrograph built at UMass Lowell was sent to the International Space Station. There, it is mounted to the outside of the craft and is taking ultraviolet pictures in an effort to learn how the upper atmosphere’s irregularities affect radio signals. The research could help improve how satellites and GPS navigational tools function. Other devices built at UMass Lowell have been launched by NASA as part of astronomers’ efforts to take images of planets around stars other than the sun. LoCSST hopes to launch new missions focused on these endeavors in 2018 and 2019.
For more info visit https://www.uml.edu/Research/LoCSST/Research/spacehauc/about.aspx.