Vt Tech CubeSat Launched Into Earth Orbit

Front Page / Nov. 21, 2013 11:06am EST

By Sandy Vondrasek

Dr. Carl Brandon, his son Jack, and two Vermont Tech students were at NASA’s Wallops Island facility in Virginia Tuesday evening to watch the spectacular launch of a four-stage Minotaur 1 rocket.

They watched the rocket head skywards, in a mighty blaze of smoke and fire, knowing that its payload included a tiny satellite built and programmed at Vermont Tech.

Their so-called CubeSat, one of 29 small satellites mounted on the outside of the 70-foot rocket, is now rocketing around the earth at 18,000 mph, Brandon said.

The satellites were released, in groups, within a few minutes of the launch. After that mission was accomplished, the four stages of the rocket subsequently fell, individually, into the Atlantic Ocean. Brandon said he was told the final stage ended its flight somewhere near South Africa.

Although he has been working on this satellite project for years, Brandon noted that this was his first opportunity to see a launch.

The Vermonters spent some time at the Wallops Island visitor center and then were bussed with other spectators to a viewing area, complete with bleachers and free snacks from Orbital Sciences, the company that built the rocket.

“It was pretty bright,” Brandon said. “It was a night launch and the rocket burns solid fuel, which has more smoke and flames than liquid fuel.”

According to NASA, the launch was visible from sites up and down the U.S. East Coast.

Eleven of the satellites put into orbit Tuesday were developed at colleges and universities; one is a high school project; one is NASA’s; with the others built by the U.S. Air Force.

The primary payload in the Department of Defense launch, according to NASA, was “an Air Force technology-demonstration mission.”

NASA has supported CubeSat projects at colleges via a grant program. The one built by Brandon’s team is testing out two, miniature navigation systems.

The satellite, 10 centimeters on each edge side, is also equipped with a tiny radio. Brandon said that it appears that the antennae successfully deployed, as signals from the satellite are being recieved. A radio being set up at Vermont Tech will be able receive data and send instructions to the satellite.

Brandon hopes eventually to build a more complex satellite that could orbit or land on the moon.

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