Cool Stuff

NASA launches first satellite created by high school students

January 21, 2014

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Overall, 50 students have been involved with the TJ3Sat (pronounced TJ CubeSat) project. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

In November, a group of high school students accomplished something no other high school students have ever done: a satellite they built was launched into space.

 The satellite, called TJ3Sat, was made at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va. and was launched on an Orbital Minotaur I rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

 TJ3Sat is a cubesat, a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites that measure about 4 inches long and weigh 3 pounds. The satellite contains a voice synthesizer module that will take written phrases in the form of code and produce a phonetic voice reading on the satellite's downlink frequencies.

Overall, 50 students have been involved with the project over the last eight years, WTOP reported. Many students were forced to leave at different stages as they moved out of high school and into college.

"There are a lot of students that started this project ... they've graduated from college," says Adam Kemp, the energy system lab director for the school.

6_TJ3Sat launch.jpgRohan Punnoose is the senior lead on the project this year. He told WTOP that the satellite allows them to communicate with people all over the globe using radio frequencies to receive and transmit messages.

"I can communicate with anyone else in the world,” he says. “ I can say 'Go Colonials' on our ground station and when it is on the other side of the world, in India, someone can tune to that frequency and hear 'Go Colonials.'"

All messages are sent in text form and a computer-generated voice relays that message down to the ground. The students who developed the satellite are keeping an eye on it as it works for three months.

TJ3Sat’s mission is to provide educational resources to other K-12 education institutions and to foster interest in aerospace through the successful design and flight of a cubesat.

''Cubesats offer our best and brightest young minds the opportunity to discover the excitement of space exploration while confronting the tough technology and engineering challenges surrounding spaceflight," said Leland Melvin, NASA's associate administrator for education in Washington. "By opening the space frontier to a new generation of scientists and engineers, we encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics."

Besides the high school cubesat, cubesats from nine universities and a NASA center were launched in November, including PhoneSat 2.4, a second-generation smartphone cubesat mission. Phonesat 2.4 will test the smartphone's capability as communication technology for nanosatellites and as hardware to manage pointing, taking images and software execution. PhoneSat 2.4 has several improvements over the previous mission, including a two-way radio to enable command of the satellite from the ground, solar arrays to enable it to be operational for up to a year, and a system for attitude control.

To track TJ3Sat’s orbit, click here.