A communications satellite is floating in space today thanks to dozens of Arizona State University students, several corporations, the U.S. Air Force and the thrust of three, 23-story high rocket launchers.
The satellite, a project started at the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering in 1999 and directed by Helen Reed, professor of aerospace engineering at ASU, was attached to the nose of the 1.9 million pound launcher as it lifted at 2:50 p.m. Arizona time Tuesday from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
"Oh, my God!" said Reed as she and students watched the dramatic launching in a laboratory at the Engineering Science Center at ASU’s Tempe campus.
The dramatic broadcast unfolded on a webcast provided by Boeing, one of the contributing corporations.
On Dec. 12, Reed, director of the NASA Space Grant Program at ASU, and several students had helped attach the 13-inch tall, 40-pound satellite to the top of a Delta IV Heavy Rocket Launcher in Florida, but they returned home when the launching was delayed because of bad weather.
It was delayed Tuesday for about two hours because of a communications problem, but then raised successfully amid sighs of relief and applause following the traditional, 2-minute countdown.
Originally, the satellite was scheduled for launching in mid-2003 from a space shuttle, but that plan was canceled after the Columbia disaster.
Before the raising, however, tension mounted in the darkened lab as Reed and the students waited for the dream that had taken nearly five years to come true.
"I’ve had goose bumps all day just waiting for this moment," Reed said.
"But it’s more than a scientific study," she added. "We’ve involved students from nearly all the different departments at ASU, including communications, social work and liberal arts.
"Our goal was to get the message out, especially to elementary school students and the younger generation about space flight."
The satellite, called the Three Corner Sat or 3CS, is a joint venture of ASU students and students from New Mexico State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The 3CS is actually two aluminum cylinders containing electronic equipment used for a variety of experiments and audited by students at each university lab and NASA scientists.
The basic functions of the satellite are imaging, or taking photos of earth and space, communications, following commands and conducting several experiments.
"This is the most intense couple of minutes of my entire life," said Erik Hendrickson, a first-year ASU graduate student and this year’s program manager for the project as he watched the launching.
Each of the three universities designed subsystems for the satellite and it was assembled at ASU.
The launching benefited everybody involved, including the Air Force for getting a research satellite at a fraction of the cost than if it were built by major corporations, and the companies that contributed more than $50,000 in cash, materials and parts. The firms, Boeing, Spectrum Astro, Orbital Sciences and Honeywell had an opportunity to train future aerospace engineers, Reed said.
"In this way, the students have learned a lot about NASA and industry practices before they get out of school," said Reed.