Weber State College engineers and students are preparing to launch a micro-satellite on the French missile, Ariane, in a test of a new product for the college.

Students with WSC's Center for Aerospace Technology are working on five separate satellites, including one up for launch this winter, said Robert Twiggs, center director.The next launch is AMSAT, a satellite produced for a nonprofit organization that is run for ham radio operators to allow them to communicate around the world. The 9-inch satellite weighs about 20 pounds, substantially smaller than the first satellite Weber State built.

"This organization for about 20 years has built and flown small satellites, and the major purpose of their satellites is to let their ham radio people communicate around the world," Twiggs said Wednesday.

"For us helping them, they give us an opportunity to build one they design," he said. "The toughest part about building satellites these days is not building them but getting them flown."

The Challenger explosion in January 1986 put satellite launches from the shuttle on hold while the National Space Transportation System was redesigned.

Meanwhile, satellite companies turned to the French and expendable launch vehicles such as the Ariane to get the communication equipment flying.

Weber State's Northern Utah Satellite, or NUSAT 1, was the first student-built satellite launched in the U.S. space program. The school was working on NUSAT 2 when Challenger blew up, and the engineers turned to micro-satellites while the nation's space program was overhauled.

"When we launched NUSAT 1 on the shuttle, we were up for about 20 months," Twiggs said. "On the Ariane, we'll be up for about 25 years."

The altitude at which the shuttle flies, about 200 miles above the earth, compared with 500 miles from the planet for Ariane, allows for satellites to have a longer life span, Twiggs said.

AMSAT also has flown before on the French rocket, which Twiggs said allows Weber State to catch a ride on Ariane.

Students will "start assembling (AMSAT) and testing that in December, and we hope to have it pretty well finished in January or in February," he said.

The satellite is just one of five that Weber is working on. Phase Four satellite, also with the ham radio operators, has a tentative launch date of 1992. Three other micro-satellites are in various stages of planning and production.

Micro-satellites are lighter and more versatile, Twiggs said, since they are capable of hitching a ride on various rockets. The 20 pounds compares to the Transmission and Data Relay Satellite, a $100 million, 5,000-pound satellite that the Discovery astronauts launched in September.

"So it gives us lots of launch opportunities," Twiggs said. "And with the advances in the technology, the electronics of the little 20-pound satellites give us more capability than the 100-pound NUSAT."

NUSAT 2 for now has taken a back seat to the micro-satellites. Weber State received about $11,000 for this school year for work on Phase 4, a 3-foot-high, 7-foot-wide satellite.

"But next year it looks like the second stage on the Phase Four will cost more in the order of $300,000," Twiggs said. "And the following year after that, you might be looking at a million dollars. We're thinking it will cost about $3 million to build the satellite."

The plan is to have a full-scale model of Phase Four by next June that includes flight-ready components, he said.