A New Generation of TJ Students Will See Their Satellite Launched into Space
For the second time, a satellite built by TJ students will fly on a NASA mission. When NASA announced the list of academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and NASA centers chosen to participate in the eighth round of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI), TJ was one of three secondary schools on the list. TJ’s satellite will fly as an auxiliary payload aboard a mission planned to launch in 2018, 2019, or 2020. The exact launch date is not yet known and will depend on payload space, among other factors.
The First Launch of a High School Satellite
Many in the TJ community recall the excitement when on November 19, 2013 TJ3Sat (pronounced “CubeSat”) was launched into space from Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, aboard an Orbital Minotaur I rocket (see Nov 2013 issue). TJ’s CubeSat, the culmination of seven years of work by over 50 students, was launched that day as part of the fourth installment of NASA’s CSLI. It was the first launch of a satellite designed and built by high school students (see Washington Post Nov 19, 2013).
The Second Generation: TJREVERB
CubeSats are small cube-shaped nanosatellites, with dimensions of about 4 inches on each side, weighing less than 3 pounds and with a volume of about a quart. TJ’s second CubeSat, dubbed TJREVERB (Thomas Jefferson Research and Education Vehicle for Evaluating Radio Broadcasts), will bring together over forty students from three of TJ’s Senior Research Labs — Energy Systems, Mobile & Web App Development, and Automation & Robotics — with members of a newly formed CubeSat Team 8th period club.
Many of the current Project Leads, whose senior research projects in various labs are unrelated to CubeSat, devote lunch periods, 8th period, and after-school time to the project. TJREVERB Principal Investigator, Energy Systems Lab Director Michael Piccione, aims to involve many different groups of students on the complex project in order to ensure that there is a pipeline of students who can assume leadership after the graduation of the first cohort of project leads.
Student Project Leads:
Stephanie Chen, TJ ’17, Systems Engineer
Diana Zavela, TJ ’17, Project Coordinator
Shihao Cao, TJ ’19, Website
Stephanie Chen, TJ ’17, Orbit & Communications
Emma Cuddy, TJ ’17, Outreach (formerly Proposal Writing)
Michael Krause, TJ ’18, Software
Shrikant Mishra, TJ ’17, Electronics
Suhas Sastry, TJ ’17, Testing & Verification
Adit Shah, TJ ’17, Structural Design
To be eligible for participation in CSLI, the CubeSats must have research and/or educational purposes. TJREVERB has both. Its primary research goal is to evaluate the effectiveness and ease of use of at least two on-board radio systems in a deployed CubeSat and determine the feasibility of at least two methods of ground communication. The project also supports multiple educational objectives. In addition to designing, launching, and testing the satellite, and evaluating multiple communication methods, students intend to create a best-practices document so that TJ students and others can apply their learning to future projects. At the same time, students will learn to manage a large workforce and complex workflow. Finally, because the high school team is in an excellent position to leverage their own work in encouraging other K-12 students in STEM and aerospace, the satellite supports a significant outreach component. In fact, non-seniors are required to devote one year to outreach before they can become full-fledged members of the technical team.
TJREVERB Outreach Initiatives
- TJ will host a workshop on building and using a CubeSat emulator or benchtop mock CubeSat;
- Website will host educational wikis on everything related to the CubeSat, including design, construction, and testing;
- Website will explain how to connect directly with the satellite and will host communications data gathered during the mission;
- Students and instructor will provide technical advice and lessons to the Florida middle school that is also a CSLI awardee;
- TJ will donate ground stations — including an antenna, a transceiver, and a computer — to select schools that have a willing teacher but need more opportunity to interact with advanced STEM projects before attempting their own CubeSat.
TJ is partnering with two companies on the project: Ragnarok Industries is donating some of the avionics — the electrical power system, flight computer, and the attitude determination and control system; Emergent Space Technologies is donating the chassis and is extending offers of summer internships and training assistance. TJREVERB will communicate with school-based ground systems using a UHF downlink and VHF uplink transceiver donated by AMSAT (Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation). An S-Band transmitter will be used for testing NASA’s Near Earth Network, and a Globalstar Simplex radio will transmit 24/7 proof-of-life data. Information transmitted may include system health and sensor data, a control data file, and images from the star-tracker. Ultimately, the student researchers hope to study each communication system’s effectiveness by researching communication capabilities and power usage of the various radios while manipulating the orientation of the CubeSat.
In October, the project underwent a Merit Review that focused on the project’s plans to address NASA’s educational and outreach goals. Participating mentors and reviewers were: Ms. Brenda Dingwall, Technology Project Manager, NASA Wallops Flight Facility Advanced Projects Office; Mr. Frank Bauer, FBauer Aerospace Consulting Services and AMSAT member; Dr. Carlos Niederstrasser, Master Systems Engineer, Orbital ATK and mentor for TJ3Sat; and Ms. Hannah Goldberg, TJ ’99, Senior Systems Engineer, Planetary Resources.
In November, the project team conducted a detailed multi-hour Feasibility Review to assess the project’s compliance with NASA launch requirements, the reasonableness of the proposed schedule, and its probability of success, and to obtain constructive feedback on design and implementation. Two project mentors — Mr. Luigi Balarinni, CEO and founder of Ragnarok, and Dr. Sun Hur-Diaz, Chief Engineer at Emergent — participated, along with the following reviewers: CDR Jeff King, Military Professor of Aerospace Engineering, US Naval Academy; Mr. John Rotter, retired USN Space Systems Engineer; Ms. Goldberg; and Mr. Nantel Suzuki, Parent ’14, ’15, Robotic Lunar Lander program executive, NASA Headquarters.
With the project’s concept now approved, the hardest work begins. The project timeline maps out several overlapping stages leading up to delivery and launch of the CubeSat, including: preliminary design development (3 months), subsystem design implementation (4 months), establishment of critical design (3 months), systems integration and testing (2 months), and operational readiness and review (2 months). The team hopes to be ready to take advantage of the first available launch opportunity.