Three Virginia university satellites count down to launch

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Credit: fotosipsak

Three student-designed and developed small satellites are set for launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia’s Eastern Shore on April 17.  The satellites are part of the Virginia CubeSat Constellation mission, a collaborative project of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium and four of its member universities:  Old Dominion University (ODU), Virginia Tech (VT), University of Virginia (UVA), and Hampton University (HU).

The three nano-satellites, each about 4 inches cubed and weighing approximately 3 pounds, have been developed and instrumented  (one each at ODU, VT and UVA) to obtain measurements of atmospheric properties and quantify atmospheric density with respect to orbital decay.  The satellites have been integrated into the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployers and loaded into the Northrop Grumman Cygnus module which is being launched on the company’s Antares rocket as a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  Cygnus will arrive at the ISS about 3 days after launch.  The satellites will be deployed from the ISS in early July by astronauts onboard near-simultaneously so they can orbit together and function as a constellation.

The ODU satellite, which has a drag brake to intentionally cause orbital decay, is expected to remain in orbit for up to four months.  The other two satellites should orbit for up to two years at an altitude of 250 miles before burning up when they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.  The satellites will communicate data to ground stations at Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and Old Dominion University for subsequent analysis using an analytical tool being developed by Hampton University students from the Atmospheric and Planetary Science Department.

The students have named their satellites after the Roman goddesses on the back of the Virginia State Seal who represent the blessings of freedom and peace.  UVA has chosen Libertas, the goddess of individual liberties; Virginia Tech selected Ceres, the goddess of agriculture; and Old Dominion University chose Aeternitas, the goddess representing eternity.

Students, faculty members and Virginia Space Grant Consortium staff will be at the launch, cheering as their satellites head for space.



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