Published: March 21, 2016

TeamA CU-Boulder student team is shooting for the moon and beyond with a tiny satellite under development that has just taken another step closer to launch.

As one of the top five teams selected by NASA, the team of 10 graduate students will continue developing a small CubeSat satellite about the size of a shoebox called the CU Earth Escape Explorer (CU-E3) with a $30,000 award from NASA. Part of the Aerospace Engineering Science Graduate Projects Class, the satellite is being designed to fly on the unmanned Orion Exploration Mission-1 slated to launch in 2018.

The CU-E3 satellite is part of the NASA CubeQuest Challenge Deep Space Derby, a project focused on finding innovative solutions to deep space communications using small spacecraft, according to aerospace engineering sciences Professor Scott Palo, who teaches the graduate class building the CU-E3 satellite. Northrup-Grumman provided an initial $10,000 to support the project in 2015-2016.

The satellite is being designed for a communications mission that will travel more than 2.5 million miles into space and a chance at winning another $1.5 million from NASA.

“The Aerospace Engineering Sciences Graduate Project course allows us to engage students from disciplines across the the College of Engineering and Applied Science in exciting, real-world hands-on projects,” said Palo.

Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT), a rapidly growing small satellite company founded by CU-Boulder alumni, is partnering with the CU-E3 team to build the satellite body.

Three CubeSats that previously were developed in the graduate course have launched or will launch into orbit, says Palo. One operated in orbit for 28 months, the second was launched to the International Space Station in December 2015 for deployment into space in April and the third is slated to launch in 2017.

The CU-Boulder graduate students working on the small satellite are Abhinav Pandey, Alec Herr, Varun Joshi, Thomas Green, Anirudh Rajaseshan, Huikang Ma, Maurice Woods, Maheedhara Reddy, Alec Forsman and Elie Tianang.

The student effort will give a boost to the larger aerospace community by helping develop new communications technology that likely will play a role in the quest to put humans on Mars, says team member Thomas Green, a Boulder native who went to Fairview High School along with team member Huikang Ma.

“Projects like ours really distinguish CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences program from others,” said Ma. “This project is giving me hands-on experience with what we hope is a real NASA mission."

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado, is the prime contractor for the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle on which the winning satellites will ride.

“The CubeSat projects are great for those who want to learn about small satellite development and have the experience of designing, building and testing hardware that will fly in Space,” said Palo.

The CU-E3 satellite will reach an orbit of about 10 times the distance between Earth and the moon.

March 21, 2016 Original Article