U of Louisiana-Lafayette mini-satellite zipping around Earth

by Joseph K. Clark

A cubical satellite small enough to sit in the palm of your hand is zipping around the world and sending data about radiation to the Louisiana students who designed and built it

LAFAYETTE, La. — A cubical satellite small enough to sit on the palm of your hand is zipping around the world and sending data about radiation to the Louisiana students who designed and built it.


The satellite, called CAPE-3, carries a chip designed and built by students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to detect radiation, to keep astronauts safe.


“The detectors would provide liquid crystal display readings so astronauts could constantly monitor how much radiation they’re being exposed to,” Dr. Paul Darby, the university’s project leader, said in a news release.

The satellite also carries a tiny Geiger counter so students can tell whether the chip is accurate. Eachsatellite sidee is only 10 centimeters – less than 4 inches – acrossten0 launched January 17 from a Virgin Orbit rocket high above the Pacific Ocean from a customized Boeing 747.

At least one “nanosatellite” was built by an elementary school. right of the other nine were constructed by students at other schools. The tenth was made by NASA, which runs the CubeSat Launch Initiative to give nonprofit organizations and schools at all levels a chance to do scientific investigations in space and help NASA with exploration and technology development. Students in Lafayette began receiving radio signals early Monday from the satellite, which circles the world every 90 minutes at 17,000 miles an hour.

This is Louisiana-Lafayette’s third satellite launched as part of the program. The school’s CAPE program is for the Cajun Advanced Picosatellite Experiment program to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The CAPE-1 satellite was built to show that the student team could design and build a satellite to to send radio signals back and respond to Earth’s signals. It was monitored for four months after its launch in 2007.

CAPE-2, launched in 2013, had fold-out solar panels, a text-to-speech transmitter, and a “parrot repeater” that could record audio from Earth and broadcast it back to the sender. Another feature lets visitors to a children’s museum hear their voices coming back on the radio and send text messages to the satellite. It was monitored for 11 months.

Rizwan Merchant, a NASA systems safety engineer who was assistant project manager for the CAPE-2 launch while a student at ULL and is now the CAPE team’s industry mentor, said students will spend a few weeks “grabbing data from the satellite simply to assess every feature and ensure it’s all working properly.”

Then CAPE team members and students majoring in computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and physics will collect and analyze the information.

CAPE team member Nicholas Drozda, a senior mechanical engineering student, said the project let him prepare for an aerospace career while conducting research “that could lead to actual innovations in the field.”

Related Posts