On Oct. 30, satellites designed by about 25 Cal Poly engineering students in the CubeSat lab will be launched out of Wallops Island, Va., at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. This is the latest in a series of satellites launched by Cal Poly.
The upcoming launch, formally known as the Sub-Orbital CubeSat Experimental Mission (SOCEM), is in coordination with Kentucky Space and NASA Wallops. The goal of the launch is to demonstrate a new, faster approach to space access. It involves a merger of CubeSat and Terrier Improved Malemute, a small rocket that the CubeSats will be placed into to be launched.
A CubeSat is a 10 cm cube satellite with a mass of up to 1 kilogram. The satellites can last for about six months in space on average, and serve a variety of purposes, including taking photographs and scientific research.
“The concept for CubeSat came from a collaboration between Professor Bob Twiggs at Stanford and Dr. Jordi Puig-Suari at Cal Poly around 1999,” PolySat project manager Justin Foley said.
The development of CubeSats has allowed universities worldwide to experiment with space exploration.
The group of students in CubeSat is responsible for maintaining the CubeSat Project’s specifications for satellite size and weight, launch coordination, communicating with other satellite builders and building the Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployer (P-POD). The P-POD is a rectangular box that up to three satellites are placed into prior to being launched. Once the satellites are in space, they are discharged from the P-POD.
“CubeSat is unique in that all other satellite builders, whether they be universities or companies, go through them for launches and information regarding how to get manifested for a launch,” Foley said.
The Cal Poly PolySat Project involves a multidisciplinary team of undergraduate and graduate engineering students working to design, construct, test, launch and operate a CubeSat, the Cal Poly PolySat Web site said.
“The members of PolySat are responsible for building Cal Poly’s CubeSat class satellites,” Foley said. “PolySat is similar to all the other organizations in the world who are building CubeSats, but is also unique in that we interact more frequently with CubeSat, because we all work in the same room.”
According to the Cal Poly CubeSat Web site, the CubeSat Project is an international collaboration of more than 40 universities, high schools and private firms.
CubeSats are a popular project among universities because of their small size, which makes them relatively inexpensive to build. In addition, by using consumer-off-the-shelf components, building one satellite costs thousands of dollars compared to the millions it would cost to build a full-size satellite.
“The downside of using consumer-off-the-shelf components [COTS] is that they don’t last as long,” said Ivan Bland, a student who has been working on the CubeSat Project. “COTS components are not space rated. They do not undergo rigorous qualifications as space-rated components do.”
It takes approximately two years to completely build one satellite.
“This is an advantage to the student,” Foley said, “because they can come in and see the beginning of the project to the end.”
The door to the building of the CubeSat lab is kept locked at all times due to International Traffic in Arms Regulations. This government organization requires that certain precautions be taken concerning anything going into space.