Written by: Keith Hautala
A tiny satellite built by students at the University of Kentucky and Morehead State University is now orbiting about 300 miles above the Earth, circling the planet every 90 minutes or so at speeds close to 18,000 mph.
The satellite, dubbed KySat-2, was launched aboard a U.S. Air Force Minotaur I rocket at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday from NASA's flight facility at Wallops Island, Va. KySat-2 was one of a record 29 satellites taken into low Earth orbit on the ORS-3 Mission, including 11 CubeSats built by students. Tuesday's launch was the fourth installment of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiativeand its Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) missions.
Several engineering students in the UK CubeSat program watched the launch in person, after piling into a van on Monday afternoon to make the 11-hour drive to Wallops. The rocket was briefly visible from Kentucky about 90 seconds after launch, as a tiny blip on the horizon.
UK computer engineering senior Chris Mitchell stayed behind to track the satellite from the UK Space Systems Laboratory in F. Paul Anderson Tower. The ground station there made radio contact with the satellite as it made its first orbital pass over Lexington around 10 p.m., Mitchell said.
James Lumpp, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineeringand director of the Space Systems Laboratory, says the ELaNa program provides an educational experience for the student team that can not otherwise be duplicated in a University setting.
"The NASA ELaNa Students go from concepts on paper to operating their hardware on-orbit and the lessons learned between those two points is invaluable," Lumpp said.
The launch of KySat was the culmination of more than four years' work for electronic and computer engineering graduate student Jason Rexroat, of Nicholasville. Rexroat started working in the space lab after his freshman year, in the summer of 2009. He says the experience was well worth the effort.
"I cherish the long hours spent in the cleanroom, because I understand the experience I've gained will not only serve me for the rest of my professional career, but will continually be a source of pride and confidence in what I'm able to accomplish as a person," Rexroat said. "I'm eternally grateful to both the university environment and NASA for giving me this opportunity."