NASA to Launch Student-Built Microsatellites

Boston University

March, 2018

A microsatellite built by Boston University students will be launched into space by NASA with the goal to help reveal how the energy that creates the aurora passes from the sun into Earth’s atmosphere.

The project, called ANDESITE, is going to be used to study space using wireless networks, using inexpensive lightweight minisatellites that are cheap to build and launch. ANDESITE is on track to launch after March 1, 2018, in an effort with NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites. ANDESITE will examine how charged particles spilling from the sun protect the Earth’s magnetic field.

Brian Walsh, an assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering, who heads the project with Joshua Semeter, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says “It was very important for us to have a true science mission. When it’s launched into space, we’re doing fundamentally new research.” Walsh emphasizes that this low budget project doesn’t mean that they’re creating a low-quality product, “We don’t need a finely tuned Ferrari: we advance our science with eight Camrys.” The total cost of parts for one minisatellite is about $500.

The satellites being launched will be circling the Earth every 90 minutes. Combining readings from all eight spacecraft, physicists will be able to piece together a full picture of the aurora. ANDESITE’s rideshare ticket is about $200,000 compared to the $20 million to fly solo. ANDESITE’s application will show how little satellites can do big science.

To learn more about this project, click here.

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