Published: Jan. 22, 2009

University of Colorado at Boulder students won first place this week in a national competition for nanosatellite design, earning a rare opportunity to launch their winning satellite within the next two years.

CU-Boulder was one of 11 schools participating in the University Nanosatellite Program's Flight Competition Review Jan. 19-20 in Albuquerque, N.M. The competition was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

"I cannot tell you how impressed I was with the professionalism and quality of work completed by our students," said Scott Palo of CU-Boulder's aerospace engineering sciences department, who was one of the faculty advisers. "It was truly amazing. The students were terrific ambassadors for CU and the results of this competition continue to enhance our reputation as the place for space."

The winning satellite, called the Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer or DANDE, is an 18-inch spherical satellite designed to measure variations in the upper atmosphere that create drag on orbiting satellites. It was designed and built over the last two years by an interdisciplinary team of aerospace, mechanical, and electrical engineers. Aerospace engineering Professor Jeffrey Forbes and Chris Koehler of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium also served as advisers.

Doctoral student Marcin Pilinski, who served as project manager, said 20 students, or about half the CU-Boulder team, participated in the competition's final review. "We were very proud of everyone, from the youngest undergraduate to the most experienced," he said.

Each team was required to make a 15-minute presentation summarizing its project in front of all the other schools, and then to go through four judging rounds in which they demonstrated their satellite, incorporating documentation and other support materials, to a total of 25 judges.

The judges met to discuss the projects at the end of the second day before the announcement of winners was made. Second place went to Washington University in St. Louis and Michigan Tech took third.

"The two biggest factors in our winning first place, according to the judges, were our documentation and our workmanship," said student Bruce Davis.

"This is not just a win for CU, but for the entire state of Colorado," he added, noting that the team had support from the aerospace industry as well as the Governor's Economic Development Office in developing its project.

The CU-Boulder students will deliver their final satellite to the Air Force by the end of this year. The satellite is expected to be launched by the Air Force as a secondary payload by 2011.