With help from NASA, four student-built CubeSat research satellites will launch into space Friday from the California coast as part of the agency's CubeSat Launch Initiative.
The CubeSats will be included as auxiliary payloads aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 2:13 a.m. EST carrying the National Reconnaissance Office's NROL-39 satellite. The CubeSats are a part of the Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) II mission, NASA's fifth ELaNa mission to launch into space. The miniature satellites will deploy from their protective cases into Earth orbit about three hours after liftoff.
"This was another great moment for the ELaNa mission and the CubeSat community," said Jason Crusan, director of NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division, which oversees the CubeSat Launch Initiative. "With each successful mission, we are demonstrating that frequent access to space provides a great opportunity for NASA to gain engineering results at a low cost while affording students real-world exposure to spaceflight."
The CubeSats were prepared by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and students at Medgar Evers College at the City University of New York; Montana State University in Bozeman; and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites. The cube-shaped satellites measure about 4 inches on each side, have a volume of about 1 quart and weigh less than 3 pounds. CubeSat research addresses science, exploration, technology development, education or space missions. Over the next few months, the ELaNa II CubeSat teams will receive data from their satellites in space. As part of their agreement with NASA, they will provide the agency a report on their outcomes and scientific findings.
ELaNa missions, conducted under NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative, give students, teachers and faculty hands-on experience developing flight hardware by providing access to a low-cost avenue for research. "I never thought I would have the opportunity to do something like this while in college," said CUNYSAT-1 System Engineer Ernst Etienne. "This has been a great experience for me since I've been able to learn so much about system engineering in general and applying that to work on the CubeSat."
Since its inception in 2010, the CubeSat Launch Initiative has selected more than 90 CubeSats from primarily educational and government institutions around the United States. NASA chose these miniature satellites from respondents to public announcements for the agency's CubeSat Launch Initiative. NASA will announce another call for proposals in August 2014.