I’m working on my second mission, KickSat 2. We plan to fly a swarm of 100 super-tiny satellites in low-Earth orbit. Launch is scheduled for November. It’s taken years to bring this work to fruition and there are still many steps ahead. There have been roadblocks with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), scheduling rocket launches, etc. Not to mention, things often break when you test them.
This year I’m teaching a new class called Space Flight. It’s an introduction to space systems engineering or, in other words, what it takes to build a really complex system like a satellite or a network of satellites. We’ll learn all about satellite subsystems, including propulsion, navigation, attitude control, power and communications, as well as how these elements fit together. The class will center on a group project that allows students to choose from missions such as Earth imaging, interplanetary exploration, etc., in order to analyze what would be needed to make the mission feasible. I’m personally fascinated by the Cassini discovery of geysers spewing out liquid water on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. If I were taking the class, I’d probably analyze a mission to explore the possibility of life there.
The class plays off of my research to push the boundaries of size, weight and power in space systems. I’m driven by a desire to make space more accessible to the general public and I’m focused on finding ways to decrease the size and cost of sending satellites into space. The satellites I’ll be sending into space in the fall can fit in the palm of your hand. They cost about $50 to build and a few hundred dollars to launch. Because they’re so affordable, we can launch a bunch at once. This opens up all kinds of opportunities for research and more robust data collection. Even if you are working with the best, biggest satellite in the world, you’re still only getting one data point at a time. A swarm of micro-satellites could give a better snapshot of a larger area, and this in turn could lead to better understanding of everything from the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetic field to asteroids and other planetary bodies.