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Student Satellite Designers Prepare to Party

Keith Pierce, Old Dominion University

After celebrating a big win in basketball, some students at UVA are preparing for another party as the satellites they designed are launched into space.

About a hundred students from UVA, and another 50 from Virginia Tech, ODU and Hampton will be watching when a rocket blasts off late Wednesday afternoon with three little satellites on board.  The four-inch cubes weigh about three pounds apiece, but they’ll pack a big informational punch according to Christopher Goyne, an assoc. professor of engineering at the University of Virginia.

“There are a lot of electronics in there," he explains.  "There are batteries, solar panels, radios, there’s a GPS. Even though these are small, relatively low cost spacecraft, they actually have many of the same components that you would have on a multi-million dollar spacecraft.”

Among other things, the young designers hope to find out how much drag space exerts on a satellite.

“Even though you’re in space, there’s still a little bit of air up there," Goyne says. "If the space craft is in orbit and it doesn’t have a propulsion system it will actually start to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere eventually and burn up.”

Knowing how dense the atmosphere is at 250 miles above the earth should allow scientists to plan better for future missions.  Goyne says people with a clear view of the eastern horizon in Virginia may be able to see the rocket blast-off at about 4:45 pm.  For a better view, he adds, go online to NASA TV, which will live-stream the launch.  

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.