CU-Boulder Citizen Explorer Satellite To Involve K-12 Students Around World

Published: April 27, 2000

An Earth-orbiting satellite designed and built primarily by undergraduate CU-Boulder students will measure atmospheric ozone and solar ultraviolet radiation as part of a larger educational effort involving K-12 students around the world.

Dubbed the Citizen Explorer, the 100-pound satellite is slated for launch aboard a Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in August 2000. The flight is being provided free of charge by NASA, which has designated the Citizen Explorer as a secondary payload.

The Citizen Explorer will be placed in a circular orbit 440 miles above the Earth, allowing it to pass over the planet at 10 a.m. local time each day. The small satellite will use the latest technologies to directly downlink data to receivers at participating schools worldwide, which will gather satellite information and transmit via the Internet to CU-Boulder and be used by participants to evaluate global and regional ozone concentrations.

The receiver antennas atop schools, known as "Edustations," cost $850, said Corissa Young, a senior aerospace engineering major at CU-Boulder who is leading the Citizen Explorer education team. In addition, hand-held aerosol detectors can be purchased for $50 and hand-held UV meters can be purchased for $40 for use in monitoring the local, lower atmospheric conditions during the project.

Schools do not have to purchase the Edustation receivers to participate in the Citizen Explorer education project, but they do need to have the hand-held aerosol and UV instruments to be a part of the global monitoring system, said Young.

To date, roughly 30 schools in Colorado, 10 others nationwide and an additional 15 international schools have signed on to participate.

"We have had schools from Chile, Brazil, South Africa and Japan sign on, many of which are being affected by ozone depletion," Young said. "But we would love to have more. Ideally, we would like to have at least one school in every state in the U.S., as well as a lot more international schools, sign on so we can get the best evaluation possible of global ozone concentrations and UV radiation."

Schools that purchase receiver antennas will become satellite ground-stations for Citizen Explorer and have the ability to monitor the health of the satellite and track its orbit, said Director Elaine Hansen of the CU-Boulder-based Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

Data from the schools will be sent via the Internet to student satellite operators at the CSGC mission control center at the CU-Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "The goal is to produce a global database of the environment through cooperative educational opportunities," said Hansen. "We think this unique project will bring the excitement of space research and exploration to the K-12 students in the United States and around the world."

The CSGC is one of 50 such programs founded in 1989 by NASA to help maintain the nation’s preeminence in space science and technology. The Colorado consortium is a joint partnership of 16 colleges, universities and institutions throughout the state focusing on space education, research and outreach.

To date, the CU-Boulder-based consortium has designed, built and flown five instruments on NASA sounding rockets and shuttles – more missions than all the NASA Space Grant Consortiums in the other 49 states combined.

For more information on K-12 school participation in the Citizen Explorer program, call the CSGC at (303) 492-5440.