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2 tiny satellites from USU part of rocket launch set for end of October

Published: Saturday, Oct. 1 2011 8:18 p.m. MDT

NORTH LOGAN — Imagine a spacecraft small enough to fit in your hand.

It's a reality, part of a trend in the space business that takes advantage of something we all benefit from every day when we use our cellphones and iPads.

"We're essentially using the same kinds of technologies that you find in cellphones and in iPads and consumer electronics today, which has allowed us to make a very capable, very small spacecraft," said professor Charles Swenson, of Utah State University.

Two small satellites from USU will be integrated onto a Delta II rocket for a launch scheduled for Oct. 25. The miniaturized satellites are the size of a loaf of bread and weigh about 4 pounds.

It's a new generation of miniaturized satellites that can be launched in big batches that are relatively cheap, efficient and flexible compared to the old clunkers that were the size of school buses and weighed several tons.

"And being able to prove that, yes, you really can take big satellite technology and make it fly on something that students built, that is definitely something that is going to be a game-changer," said Utah State University student Erik Stromberg.

In late September, the satellite twin-pack was placed on a shake-table at Utah state and got a shakedown cruise, intense, high-frequency vibration.  

"We shake the spacecraft to simulate the environment that they're going to see when they're out on the rocket and sent into space," Swenson said.

He said the ultimate goal of the research is to understand the space environment better so that assets in space can be better protected. Once in space, the satellites will unfurl antennae to monitor the geomagnetic storms that sometimes disrupt communication networks.

The two tiny spacecraft will act in tandem, a sort of orbital tag team. "So one will make a measurement in the space environment. And then the other one will come through right after and see how it's changed," Swenson said. "We have proposed missions of upwards of a hundred spacecraft to NASA as a future project that NASA might undertake."

E-mail: hollenhorst@desnews.com

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