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Auburn University Space Program to launch state's first student-built satellite into space

Published: 10/18/2011

By: Candis Birchfield

Video by: Phillip Coxwell

Auburn's famous battle cry, "War Eagle," will be heard from space Oct. 27 when it is transmitted to earth from a student-built satellite known as "AubieSat-1."

The construction of the satellite is part of the Auburn University Student Space Program, and AubieSat-1 is the first student-built satellite in the state to be accepted by NASA for launch. The satellite will launch aboard a NASA-sponsored Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Once in space, the satellite will communicate with Auburn students in Morse Code, and the phrase "War Eagle" is the signal that the launch was successful and the satellite is in orbit and operating correctly.

The satellite is a "cubesat," which is a 4-inch, cube-shaped satellite that is used primarily for research. Once released from the rocket, AubieSat-1 will have two antennas come out – one for receiving signals from Auburn University and one for sending signals back to Auburn. The students have built a control center in the Physics Department from which they will give the satellite commands to execute, as well as receive, data from the satellite such as temperature, battery charge and voltage, and power from the solar cells. The students will ultimately measure the decrease of solar cell efficiency over time on protected versus non-protected solar panels.

Securing a spot on the rocket for the satellite was a competitive process. AubieSat-1 was selected in July 2010 by NASA and is one of only five cubesats in the nation that will launch on the Delta II rocket.

The program is operated solely by undergraduate students. Approximately 100 students have worked on the current satellite, and the goal of the program is to give them a unique experience working in teams on a space experiment and promote workforce development.

"We do things the students do not learn in class," said J-M Wersinger, professor emeritus in the Department of Physics and director of the Auburn University Student Space Program. "The classwork is extremely important and useful, but it's not the whole story. In order to get a job, companies would like people to have skills, like being able to work in teams on projects, understanding what a deadline is, understanding how to work with people, to communicate, and the basics of management and systems engineering. It's not book learning. It's practical learning."

The students designed, built and tested the satellite, and took it to California for a Mission Readiness Review, which they passed with flying colors. Finally, the satellite underwent some tests before being shipped to California for integration into a Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployer, a satellite deployer known as a P-POD, that will be placed in the launching rocket with the four other cubesats.

The Auburn University Student Space Program is part of the College of Sciences and Mathematics. AubieSat-1 is sponsored by Auburn University and the Alabama Space Grant Consortium. For more information on AubieSat-1, go to the website at www.space.auburn.edu.

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