Student Satellite Launched Into Orbit

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Written by: Keith Hautala 

A tiny satellite built by students at the University of Kentucky and Morehead State University is now orbiting about 300 miles above the Earth, circling the planet every 90 minutes or so at speeds close to 18,000 mph.

The satellite, dubbed KySat-2, was launched aboard a U.S. Air Force Minotaur I rocket at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday from NASA's flight facility at Wallops Island, Va. KySat-2 was one of a record 29 satellites taken into low Earth orbit on the ORS-3 Mission, including 11 CubeSats  built by students. Tuesday's launch was the fourth installment of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiativeand its Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) missions. 

Several engineering students in the UK CubeSat program watched the launch in person, after piling into a van on Monday afternoon to make the 11-hour drive to Wallops. The rocket was briefly visible from Kentucky about 90 seconds after launch, as a tiny blip on the horizon. 

UK computer engineering senior Chris Mitchell stayed behind to track the satellite from the UK Space Systems Laboratory in F. Paul Anderson Tower. The ground station there made radio contact with the satellite as it made its first orbital pass over Lexington around 10 p.m., Mitchell said.

James Lumpp, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineeringand director of the Space Systems Laboratory, says the ELaNa program provides an educational experience for the student team that can not otherwise be duplicated in a University setting. 

"The NASA ELaNa Students go from concepts on paper to operating their hardware on-orbit and the lessons learned between those two points is invaluable," Lumpp said.  

The launch of KySat was the culmination of more than four years' work for electronic and computer engineering graduate student Jason Rexroat, of Nicholasville. Rexroat started working in the space lab after his freshman year, in the summer of 2009. He says the experience was well worth the effort.

"I cherish the long hours spent in the cleanroom, because I understand the experience I've gained will not only serve me for the rest of my professional career, but will continually be a source of pride and confidence in what I'm able to accomplish as a person," Rexroat said. "I'm eternally grateful to both the university environment and NASA for giving me this opportunity."

Mechanical engineering student Mary Fralick, of Louisville, says she was "beyond excited" to watch the rocket launch.  
"I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of designing and building a satellite going to space as an undergraduate student," Fralick said. "Not many students get to be a part of something so exciting and innovative at a young age." 
KySat-2 was built to the CubeSat standard, which restricts its volume to one liter (about a 4-inch cube, roughly the size of a tissue box). Despite its tiny size, KySat-2 is loaded with complex electronics, including an onboard computer, a digital camera, lithium-ion batteries, solar electric panels and a ham radio transceiver. Students will be able to receive data from the satellite, including starfield photography. 
The UK students worked in conjunction with their peers at Morehead to design, build and test KySat-2 over the past two years, under the auspices of the Kentucky Space consortium. UK's CubeSat program is supported by grants from NASA, including support from the UK-hosted NASA Kentucky Space Grant and EPSCoR Programs. NASA Kentucky funds opportunities for faculty and students across Kentucky to work with NASA researchers.