UL engineering students win CubeSat launch
University of Louisiana at Lafayette engineering students will be able to launch a satellite they built to study the effect of the sun’s particles in space, as part of a contest through the United Launch Alliance.
Paul Darby, Ph.D., an engineering professor at UL Lafayette and one of the professors overseeing the project, explained the satellite will gather data about coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are particles of the sun’s matter blasted into space by solarwinds. He said the satellite will be studying the effects of these particles on the Earth’s magnetic field, light spectrum, atmosphere and radiation belts.
“This puts UL right on the top of the stack when it comes to understanding (radiation) effects,” said Andy Hollerman, Ph.D., a physics professor at UL Lafayette who conceived the idea to study CMEs.
The satellite is a small cube — which is why scientists call them CubeSats — weighs up to 2.9 pounds and can fit in a person’s hand. The UL Lafayette satellite is called LACCE: Louisiana Coronal mass ejection Correlation Experiment.
The satellite will be released into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, meaning it will have a highly elliptical orbit. Darby said at it will range between 150-21,000 miles from Earth, allowing the study the effects of CMEs from different distances.
“This gives us a unique opportunity to do research that most undergrads don’t get to do,” said Adam Tauzin, a junior engineering major working on the satellite.
He added that part of the proposal process is showing how they would involve students at lower levels. He said they look for students in middle and high school who are interested in STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — to help with their projects.
“We try our best to recruit to those kind of students, to try to involve them as much as we possibly can,” Tauzin said.
Darby explained people can buy relatively inexpensive ionospheric disturbance radio sensors, which monitor very low frequency radio signals in the ionosphere. If the signal from the sensor is disturbed, it could be an indication of CMEs affecting Earth. Students could relay the disturbance back to the UL Lafayette students, so they could position the satellite to study the data found by the sensor.
“We’re trying to do something to give these students experience in doing real payloads,” Hollerman said.
He said he views the satellite project as preparation for the students to step into a real-world career immediately after college. He opined their experience with the satellite is a big advantage and the experience could land them a job at NASA.
“Your résumé, basically, is in orbit,” Darby said.
The LACCE satellite will be launched in 2018. UL Lafayette has had an active CubeSat program since 2004, according to Darby. The students are also working on a second satellite, which is scheduled to launch this semester, called the CAPE (Cajun Advanced Picosatellite Experiment). The CAPE satellite will also look at radiation in space and test new ground communication networks.