A project that began more than a year ago culminated over winter break when NASA launched a rocket into space carrying equipment built by four Cal Poly aerospace engineering students.
Roland Coelho, Lori Brooks, Jonathan Brown and Wenshel Lan helped design the P-Pod CubeSat orbital delivery system, which was launched on a U.S. Air Force Minotaur rocket from Wallops Mid-Atlantic Flight Facility near Chincoteague, Va., on Dec. 16. The rocket will help researchers better understand the impact of space flight on microscopic life and biological mechanisms.
“It gave us a good taste of what the industry is like,” Brown said. “NASA built the satellite and we developed the deployer. We kind of acted as an interface between the launch vehicle and the satellite.”
Coelho, Brooks, Brown and Lan teamed with NASA Ames Research Center, the Center for Robotic Exploration and Space Technologies and students from both Stanford and Santa Clara universities on GeneSat-1, a 10-pound satellite which Coelho said carried E. coli for researchers to study.
Coelho and Lan were in Virginia before the launch to integrate their work into the rocket.
GeneSat-1 was deployed in space by the P-Pod, which Brown said is about 15 inches long. The experiment portion of the project ended Dec. 22, Coelho said.
“It was a complete success,” Coelho said of the launch. “Everything went according to plan. Once GeneSat-1 was ejected from the P-Pod, we were able to talk to the satellite and NASA was able to run experiments on the bacteria and they got useful data.”
According to the project’s latest Mission Status Report on Jan. 3, the temperature of the bacteria is 77 degrees and has a humidity of 92.063 percent.
Stanford helped develop the satellite’s structure and communication system and Santa Clara helped with on-orbit operations, Brown said.
While Brown said the overall project took more than a year to complete, he added it was not entirely difficult.
“It’s not really a difficult process,” Brown said. “You just have to pay a lot of attention to detail. It’s just a spring-loaded mechanism. It has a mechanism at the top that holds the door closed.”
Although the experiment stage of the project is over, the satellite itself can continue to function for roughly three months, Coelho said.
“NASA scientists now can go ahead and characterize their satellite and understand it better so they can build another satellite and take care of all the bugs,” Coelho said.
Coelho hopes the success of the project will lead to continued collaborative efforts between Cal Poly and NASA.
“We definitely want to follow up and work on other projects with NASA and do other missions with them too,” he said. “This is not a one-time deal. We seek to actively work with NASA.”