Medgar Evers College students help develope ‘CubeSat’ for NASA communication satellite
Eagerly await ‘CUNYSAT’ lift-off to test 3 year-long science experiment.
For a little piece of equipment, the 4×4-inch cube tucked in an anti-static bag in a plastic lined clean room at Medgar Evers College is pretty huge.
When it heads into space next year the CubeSat, as it is called, will be the culmination of three years of computer programing, engineering and testing involving more than 60 students — most of them from Medgar — from colleges across the Metro area.
Medgar professor and Project Director Shermane Austin said creating the satellite, dubbed CUNYSAT, allows students to “get experience in what NASA does, and also lets the faculty understand the science involved in these things.
“This not like a puzzle that you just put all the pieces together and see if it works,” she said. “There is a significant amount of work by the students.”
Last week several students, including Elston Alexis, Leston Alexis, Ralph Dumervil, Vinchencia Henderson, Fari Lindo, Kirt St. Louis, and Bridgette Miles joined former students Riguel Fabre, Ernst Etienne and Patrick Dumervil, as well as Austin and physics professor Leon Johnson and computer science professor Laura Zavaka to discuss the project.
Austin said students from Cornell University, City College of New York, Queensborough College, The College of Staten Island, Cooper Union, Brooklyn College and the New Jersey Institute of Technology have contributed to the project.
Basically students were charged with designing mechanical, electrical, communication, date handling, and command systems in the cube which could survive the violent vibrations of a rocket launch and the hostile temperatures of space and still communicate with a ground station manned by students at Medgar.
Although students followed some guidelines already established by National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they were responsible for writing software and repeatedly testing each system.
It is not nearly as simple as it sounds. Patrick Dumervil noted that the electrical system had to be designed to run off a conventional and a solar battery which had to be recharged by solar panels fixed to the cube.
“My job was to make sure the electrical system is balanced,” he said.
“We have to make sure the integrity of the cube is maintained,” said Etienne. “Basically the whole thing is to just maintain the integrity of the Cubesat and make sure it survives.”
The systems are installed in the cub in a clean room — students had to wear gloves, masks and paper clean suits to maintain the sterile environment.
The cube is expected to spend about 120 days in space before falling to earth, Austin said.
The launch date is secret, but Garrett Skrobot, a NASA launch engineer who created the program (formal name Educational Launch of Nanosatellite, or ELaNa) three years ago said he is only awaiting administrative approval to schedule the CUNYSAT for a space flight.
NASA has launched eight cubes so far, and has another 17 awaiting a launch date. Skrobot said he expects that Medgar will design even more sophisticated cubes for future launches. “After all, this is their first one,” he said.
Lindo, part of the ground team writing the communication software, said the team is still hopeful it can include more ambitious experiments in this first cube.
“We’re still trying to see if we can do some ionospheric experiments,” he said.
“Before working on this project I had no idea about these systems,” said Elston Alexis. “Within a few days of coming in I had learned how to track a satellite. This is a great learning experience, and it looks good on a resume.”
Miles said she is so involved in the project that “sometimes late at night I’ll get an idea and sit straight up in the bed. It really is exciting.”
Medgar Evers College website is mec.cuny.edu.
crichardson@ nydailynews. com