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Irvine CubeSat STEM Program Successfully Launches First Two High School Student-built CubeSat in the West Coast

Friday, December 07, 2018

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On Nov. 10 and Dec. 3, 2018, the students, instructors, and supporters of the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program celebrated the final milestones in the student’s journey to assemble, test and launch the Irvine01 and Irvine02 nanosatellites into orbit. The successful launches makes it the first high school program in the West Coast to launch operational, all high school student-built CubeSat’s into orbit.

The Irvine CubeSat STEM Program (ICSP) is a collaboration between Greater Irvine Chamber education partners Irvine Public Schools Foundation (IPSF), Irvine Unified School District and Tustin Unified School District (TUSD) to train and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals. It is comprised of students from six different high schools (Beckman, Irvine, Northwood, Portola, University, and Woodbridge) in the city and powered by private sector donations through Irvine Public Schools Foundation.

“What started as a crazy idea to change the way that students experience STEM education, has evolved into one of the most progressive high school space programs in the country and a truly invaluable experience for all involved,” Neda Eaton, president and CEO, Irvine Public Schools Foundation. “Over the past two years, our students faced many real world obstacles that provided them with an even better understanding of the aerospace industry. They met these challenges head on, and we are so proud of their hard work and dedication to this program.”

The Irvine CubeSat STEM Program endeavors to provide STEM educational resources to high school students, with the intention of inspiring the next generation of innovative thinkers. This after school program also has a special emphasis on creating opportunities for under-represented groups in STEM-related fields, including women and minorities. The project is the first of its kind in California and is the first high school program on the West Coast to launch an operational CubeSat into orbit.

Irvine01 Launch

The students packed up the completed CubeSat at launch integrator, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc., a worldwide leader in nanosatellites, before being transported to the launch site in New Zealand. The launch mission, “It’s Business Time, marks Huntington Beach-based, Rocket Lab’s first commercial launch of their innovative Electron rocket. Partnering with this local company has provided the students with an opportunity to learn about the production of the Electron launch vehicle first-hand.

Irvine01 took off at 7:50 p.m. PST on Nov. 10, 2018 from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, the world’s only privately owned and operated orbital launch facility. Once launched, students from the Communications team tracked the satellite’s orbital path and on Sunday made radio contact with the CubeSat, confirming that it reached orbit and is functioning as expected.

Aboard Irvine01 is a low-resolution camera that will take pictures of Venus, bright stars and other celestial objects. Data from these images can be used to calculate distances to planets and determine the pointing accuracy of the satellite.

Irvine02 Launch

Irvine02 launched with NASA Spaceflight on Dec. 3, 2018 at 10:32 a.m. from Vandenberg, California. This was Spaceflight’s first fully dedicated rideshare mission dubbed “SSO-A: SmallSat Express” aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base in California later this year. SSO-A is especially significant because it is the largest rideshare mission, with more than 70 satellites manifested, from a U.S.-based launch vehicle.

Irvine02, is one of the smallest CubeSats to fly with an electric propulsion system and is the first commercial demonstration of a new electrospray thruster from Accion Systems. Irvine02 was built to have propellant to maintain or lower its orbit, along with the aforementioned Laser Communications (lasercomm) system to download photographs and other science data to Earth.

As part of the assembly of Irvine02, the students had the opportunity to learn about optical communications and how to transfer data at a faster rate than radio from orbit to Irvine. They also have had the opportunity to build a new Optical Ground Receiver station, nicknamed the OGRE due to its tall yet cycloptic form that eyes the sky, that will be tracking the orbit of Irvine02. It captures the downlinked data and converts it to a digital form for further analysis by other student teams.

Being part of the ELaNa program enabled the students to work alongside NASA and the launch vehicle integration teams at Seattle-based Spaceflight, but it also taught them teamwork across a citywide effort that spans all six public high schools in Irvine.

NASA And Beyond

Irvine02 and Irvine03, the next mission of the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program, were both selected to participate in NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative to fly on upcoming NASA-sponsored missions. The Irvine CubeSat STEM Program is one of the only high school-led groups chosen by NASA to participate in this prestigious program, alongside world class universities and research centers.

Irvine CubeSat STEM Program was boosted by seed funding from Irvine Public Schools Foundation (IPSF) to help start this multiyear STEM initiative. For the past three years, IPSF has continued its commitment to raise funds and administer the program each year. Typically, a program like this would be seen at NASA, or a handful of elite colleges and universities.

Other corporate sponsors include the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Cisco, FivePoint, Google, Ingersoll-Rand/Trane, MEGGiTT Defense Systems, Inc., Microsemi, and Resilient. In addition to the funding, IPSF provides oversight, consultation, event management and administrative support of the program.

“We are honored to support enhanced innovation in classrooms across Irvine schools, and are so grateful to our partners who share our passion and have supported this program from the beginning, helping our students reach for the stars,” said Eaton.

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