A communications satellite developed by students at Arizona State University may be lost in space, but those involved with the project that was created at the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering are still calling it a success.
"By no means is 3CS a failure," said Erik Hendrickson, an ASU graduate student and program manager for the project. "We built a satellite that was launched and that, in itself, is a big achievement."
He said many of the students who worked on 3CS — two aluminum cylinders containing electronic equipment — are now employed in the aerospace industry and many other students learned about space science.
"We’re still waiting for word on whether the satellite burned up during the launching, or is in another orbit somewhere above the Earth," Hendrickson said. "We’re in limbo." He added: "And even if it did burn, it’s still a success."
The 3CS, a 13-inch tall satellite, was atop a 23-story, Boeing Delta IV rocket that left Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 2:50 p.m. Tuesday.
The giant rocket rose above the Atlantic Ocean, but about six hours later the U.S. Air Force confirmed that the mission fell short of delivering its 6.7-ton payload into the proper orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth.
"We tried to communicate with the satellite, but couldn’t make contact," said Hendrickson, who was among several ASU students who followed the launching on a Boeing webcast.
"Eventually, we learned that the rocket did not reach the right altitude and, as a result, our satellite was either burned or is out there somewhere," Hendrickson said.
"We’ve been told that radar sites have located some objects that may either be trash — or our satellite. We’re waiting for more information."
The satellite is a joint venture of ASU students and students from New Mexico State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder and is called the Three Corner Sat, or 3CS for three of the four states that border the Four Corners.
Besides Boeing, the firms that contributed more than $50,000 in cash toward the NASA Space Grant Program at ASU included General Dynamics, Orbital Sciences and Honeywell International.
The satellite project was initiated in 1999 under the direction of Helen Reed, professor of aerospace engineering at ASU and was originally scheduled for launching in mid-2003 from a space shuttle, but that plan was canceled after the Columbia disaster.
"This launch was a culmination of an incredible journey for these students," Reed said. "Do we want to do it again? Absolutely, yes. It was — and is — a success."
The basic functions of the satellite, which was assembled by students at ASU and placed atop Boeing’s new, heavy lift rocket, was to relay images from space, communications and conduct several experiments.
However, the rocket — part of a $141 million Air Force project to demonstrate that the Delta IV was ready to fly national security missions — did not reach the right altitude during the first firing stage, said Air Force officials.
The second stage burned longer than planned, thus leaving the rocket without enough fuel when it started later, said Boeing spokesman Robert Villanueva.
The satellite may have burned during the first or second firing stages or was dispersed on a lower orbit than originally planned, according officals.