Monday, Oct 23 2017 | Updated at 01:12 PM EDT

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Mar 28, 2017 09:12 PM EDT

NASA To Launch A 'Constellation' Of Student-Built CubeSat's To Space

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NASA's ICON satellite to study ionosphere, space weather

Engineering students at the University of Virginia (UVA) have been working on a NASA CubeSat project that aims to send tiny satellites while working on matching ground stations to track them down and collect data.

NASA sponsors CubeSat and collaborates with other Virginia universities through the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. The satellite will be sent up to collect data on atmospheric drag in low earth orbit. The student-built satellite is scheduled to be deployed in space in late 2018 aboard a NASA-sponsored rocket as part of a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

According to mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Christopher Goyne serving as faculty adviser for the project, they are building their own version of NASA's Mission Control to communicate with their own spacecraft. He adds the students have a lot of work ahead of them prior to launch, to be followed by a six to 12-month flight mission.

The UVA student-built diminutive cube satellite is about the size of a softball is part of a joint mission with other Virginia universities. UVAs CubeSat will be the first to be developed and flown by the university. It is expected that assembly and testing of UVAs CubeSat will be completed this summer.

UVAs CubeSat is one among three that will form a "constellation" that are also being designed by students from Virgina Tech and Old Dominion University (ODU), through the auspices of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. UVA, Virginia Tech and ODU will be operating their own ground stations and will maintain open communications during the duration of the mission. Additionally, the student teams will also collaborate on various aspects of the project.

Graduating fourth-year student Colin Mitchell says that one of the most rewarding aspects of the project is the collaboration with other student teams. Mitchell will be graduating this spring with degrees in mechanical engineering and physics.

He is a member of the data communications team writing the software for the UVA CubeSat. Along with fellow student Tyler Gabrielle, they studied for and obtained Technician tickets for them to be able to test the satellite's radio gear. Accordingly, other students associated with the project will also earn licenses during the course of the project's development.

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