The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been a driving force in bringing engineering education to elementary schools in the United States. In addition to its focus on elementary school students, NASA provides funding for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs for students in middle school and high school. In recent years, seven schools in the Unites States have received funding for NASA missions that use CubeSats, small satellites that facilitate low-cost space-based research projects. These seven schools competed with colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations for funding from NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. Read on to learn more about these cutting-edge satellites.
1. Thomas Jefferson High School
Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Virginia, since renamed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), was the first high school in the United States to design a CubeSat that was used on a NASA mission. On November 19, 2013, the school’s TJ3Sat was launched from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The TJ3Sat measured 1U, or 10x10x10 cm. The weight of CubeSats are determined by their U counts, with a 1U CubeSat weighing no more than 3 pounds. TJ3Sat’s function was to use a voice synthesizer to translate phrases written in computer code into a phonetic reading for download.
The school also has a second CubeSat, the TJREVERB, on the manifest for an upcoming NASA mission. It is set to launch on October 19, 2019, from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The TJREVERB is a 2U CubeSat, or twice the size of the school’s first CubeSat and up to twice its weight. The function of the TJREVERB is to compare multiple radio systems in Lower Earth Orbit.
2. St. Thomas More Cathedral School
St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, Virginia, was the first K-8 school in the United States to have a CubeSat of its design included in a NASA mission. The school saw its STMSat-1 launched on December 6, 2015, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, after which it was flown to the International Space Station and deployed into space on May 16, 2016. A 1U CubeSat, the STMSat-1’s purpose was to photograph Earth and transmit images to stations monitored by students around the world.
3. University High School
University High School in Irvine, California, had its IRVINE02 CubeSat launched on December 3, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as part of a SpaceX mission. A 1U CubeSat, the IRVINE02 featured an electric thruster with propellant to adjust its orbit and also featured an optical laser downlink for transmitting data. IRVINE02 also included a wide-field macro lens camera. The IRVINE02 was launched along with one other CubeSat designed by a K-12 school, the WeissSat1.
Still under development for a future launch is the IRVINE03 CubeSat. Another 1U CubeSat, the IRVINE03 intends to measure X-rays from the Crab Nebula Pulsar. It will feature an electrospray thruster quad pack for directional control, an S-Band software defined radio, an improved laser communication system, a larger deployable solar array, and a new camera.
4. Weiss School
Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, had its WeissSat1 CubeSat launched on December 3, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as part of a SpaceX mission. It was launched along with the IRVINE02. The 1U WeissSat1 mission was designed to collect sensor data and demonstrate a new lab-on-a-chip program. All data collected by WeissSat1 was made available for monitoring via a web page.
5. North Idaho STEM Charter Academy
North Idaho STEM Charter Academy in Rathdrum, Idaho, designed the DaVinci, which was launched on December 11, 2018, from Mahia, New Zealand. The DaVinci was a 3U CubeSat measuring 10x10x30 cm and weighing 3.4 kg. It was designed to allow the first-ever satellite-to-satellite communications and to complete one of the first ever Bitcoin transactions from space.
6. Merritt Island High School
Merritt Island High School in Merritt Island, Florida, has designed StangSat, which is on the manifest for an upcoming mission due to launch on April 30, 2019, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This launch will be part of the Space Test Program STP-2. StangSat is designed to partner with a CubeSat called LEO (CP9) made by California Polytechnic State University. Together, the two CubeSats are a 3U CubeSat that will study the thermal data at launch. The CubeSats will also demonstrate technology designed to allow wireless communication between the CubeSats.
7. Robertsville Middle School
Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, designed RamSat, which is under development. A 2U CubeSat measuring no more than 10x10x20 cm and weighing no more than 6 pounds, the RamSat will carry a camera to transmit images to Earth. It will enable viewing of the patterns of reforestation in areas damaged by forest fires.