NASA grant will help ASU students build a miniature satellite

Aerospace | 30 Sep, 2016 |

Community members packed into an auditorium Friday night to hear members of ASU’s Sun Devil Satellite Laboratory team speak about urban heat islands and how a $200,000 grant from NASA’s Space Grant Undergraduate Student Instrument Program will allow the team to build a miniature satellite.

A discussion was held consisting of project manager Sarah Rogers, lead scientist Gianna Parisi, and chief engineer Jaime Sanchez de la Vega. The panel was moderated by Anthony McCourt, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering.

The mission, dubbed “Phoenix,” will consist of a “cubesat,” a satellite roughly the size of a loaf of bread that will be specially designed by a team of more than 25 ASU undergraduates. This is ASU’s first project that will be handled completely by undergraduate students.

“Designing and building a cube satellite isn’t something that you do in your classes,” said Rogers, a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering. “A large part of this is research into our next steps. It’s very challenging and difficult to figure out how all of this fits together and how we want to design a schedule and a budget and really start driving the project and developing everything while we’re still figuring out what our next steps are.”

Upon completion of the cubesat, Phoenix will catch a ride with NASA to the international space station and will then be launched into orbit using the space stations NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (think T-shirt gun at a sporting event.) Phoenix will orbit around Earth for a year and then will burn up in the atmosphere once its battery has died.

The Phoenix team is focusing on urban heat islands and will use the satellite to monitor an estimated 12 cities while it is in orbit. Phoenix will have a FLIR Tau2 640 IR Camera that will be used to measure heat signatures using geographic information system technology. The technology looks at images “spatially,” meaning that the pictures will be made up of layers.

“What I really want to do is design space crafts that are going to help the environment and monitor the earth,” said Parisi, a sophomore at ASU’s school of Earth and Space Exploration.

An urban heat island is created when heat from the sun is stored in man-made materials, such as roads, concrete, metal, etc. At night the temperatures rise because the stored heat is then released. Higher temperatures result in higher electricity bills and can even lead to sickness. By studying the urban heat islands, city developers can create cooler cities and electricity bills will be more cost friendly.  

The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration and has students from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and the School of Earth and Space Exploration working together to accomplish the same goal.

“The management side of the project has proven to be the hardest. Trying to get all these people to work together and figure out what to do is the hardest thing,” said Sanchez de la Vega, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering.

Phoenix is still its design stage and will hopefully be ready for launch in January of 2017.

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