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PRESS RELEASE: Tiny student-built satellite launches to study violent solar activity

August 1, 2012
Cleanroom high five

CU-Boulder students Ian Dahlke (left) and David Gerhardt (right) celebrate a successful vibration test, one of many tests the student-built NSF CubeSat satellite underwent prior to shipment.

UPDATE: After some range issues and weather setbacks, CSSWE launched successfully on Thursday, September 13, at 3:39 p.m. MT. It was deployed three hours later, and made its first pass over the LASP ground station at approximately 4:14 a.m. MT on Friday, September 14, when the first beacons were received.

A CubeSat mission designed, built, and tested by University of Colorado Boulder students is scheduled to launch just after 1:00 am MT on August 2, 2012. The NSF-funded CubeSat mission is a collaborative effort between LASP and the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences (AES).

Beginning in 2008, more than sixty students from five majors have worked under the guidance and support of faculty and professional engineers, including Principal Investigator Xinlin Li of LASP/AES, Co-Principal Investigator Scott Palo of AES, and LASP engineer Rick Kohnert.

Li, who is a LASP scientist and AES faculty member, said, “Our students have worked incredibly hard to overcome the challenges of building a real flight-ready mission. Many alums will be glued to NASA TV, watching the launch of a satellite that represents many years of learning and effort.”

The mission, called the Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment (CSSWE), will fly the science payload named the Relativistic Electron and Proton Telescope Integrated Little Experiment, or REPTile. REPTile is a scaled-down version of the REPT instrument, which was built at LASP for NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission, scheduled for launch later this month.

The goal of the three-month CSSWE mission is to study solar flares—violent processes in the solar atmosphere that are associated with large energy releases—and how particles released during these events affect the Earth’s radiation belt electrons. Students will monitor incoming CCSWE data from a ground station operated at LASP.

CubeSats are miniaturized satellites, sized to a ten-centimeter cube per unit. CSSWE is a three-unit CubeSat with a mass of approximately three kilograms. NSF’s CubeSat program supports satellite missions in geospace and atmospheric research with an eye toward training the next generation of space scientists and aerospace engineers. The mission will launch on an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, along with ten other CubeSats under the NASA Educational Launch of Nano-Satellites program.

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