First there was NUSAT and then WEBERSAT. And now Weber State College is ready with its third satellite - ADSAT - to shoot into space. All it needs is a ride.
NUSAT went into orbit aboard a space shuttle in April 1985, and remained in space for 20 months. But the Challenger disaster in January 1986 temporarily grounded the shuttles and Weber State went to French Ariane rocket to get WEBERSAT into space.Now that the space shuttle program is back in business, Director Bob Twiggs of Weber's Center for Aerospace Technology said the school hopes ADSAT will be aboard a shuttle within the next year. It usually takes at least 12 months, Twiggs said, for NASA to approve civilian launch requests.
ADSAT - for Astronaut Deployed Satellite - is one of the simplest built by the center's students, said deputy director Will Clapp, manager of the student project. The 16-inch square by 4-inch thick device looks something like a large pizza box with a handle, said Clapp.
And, because it has its own power supply and is not connected to any shuttle systems, the only things it needs are a little cargo space and some of the astronauts' time, the Weber State professors said.
The satellite must be launched by an astronaut from outside the shuttle. It really isn't much of a launch, Clapp said, because the astronaut just points it, and springs in the handle push the tiny craft on its way.
"The astronaut carries it outdoors with him," said Clapp.
That does create a problem, he said, because the National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans only two 1991 flights where astronauts will take a space walk outside the shuttle.
"That narrows down our chances. And they're not going to go outside if they don't have to. But, when they do, it will take just a few minutes" to fling ADSAT into orbit, said Clapp.
The 25-pound satellite is designed to measure the Earth's magnetic field and tell when it is in the Earth's shadow. It also can relay information on the temperature and its power levels.
In additional to learning how to build a communications satellite, the Weber State students will try to use the satellite's information to compute its speed, orbit, distance from Earth, and rotation and spin.
And Twiggs said, with relatively simple and inexpensive communications equipment and scanners, high school and junior high students also should be able to monitor ADSAT's signals.
The sad part about the satellite is the shuttle will drop it off in a low Earth orbit, less than 190 miles up. That means its orbit will decay quickly, and ADSAT will burn up on re-entry after only up to about five months of life.