Home / Tech / News / U of Louisiana-Lafayette mini-satellite zipping around Earth
tech

U of Louisiana-Lafayette mini-satellite zipping around Earth

The satellite, called CAPE-3, carries a chip designed and built by students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to detect radiation, with an eye to keeping astronauts safe.

This undated photo provided by Jacob Deshotels shows a mini-satellite, less than 4 inches on each side, that was made by students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and is now orbiting the earth once every 90 minutes. It's the third
This undated photo provided by Jacob Deshotels shows a mini-satellite, less than 4 inches on each side, that was made by students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and is now orbiting the earth once every 90 minutes. It's the third "nanosatellite" created by the school's students and sent into orbit under a NASA program. (Jacob Deshotels via AP) (AP)

A cubical satellite small enough to sit on the palm of your hand is zipping around the world and sending data about radiation to the Louisiana students who designed and built it.

“The detectors would provide liquid crystal display readings so astronauts could constantly monitor how much radiation they’re being exposed to,” Dr. Paul Darby, the university’s project leader, said in a news release.

The satellite also carries a tiny Geiger counter so students can tell whether the chip is accurate.

Each side of the satellite is only 10 centimeters - less than 4 inches - across. It was among 10 launched Jan. 17 from a Virgin Orbit rocket that itself was launched high above the Pacific Ocean from a customized Boeing 747.

ALSO READ: Billionaire Branson’s Virgin Orbit sends satellites into space

Eight of the other nine were built by students at other schools. The tenth was built by NASA, which runs the CubeSat Launch Initiative to give nonprofit organizations and schools at all levels a chance to do scientific investigations in space and help NASA with exploration and technology development. At least one “nanosatellite” was built by an elementary school.

Students in Lafayette began receiving radio signals early Monday from the satellite, which circles the world every 90 minutes, at 17,000 miles an hour.

This is Louisiana-Lafayette’s third satellite launched as part of the program. The school’s program is called CAPE, for the Cajun Advanced Picosatellite Experiment program aimed at preparing students for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The CAPE-1 satellite was built to show that the student team could design and build a satellite that could send radio signals back and could respond to signals sent from Earth. It was monitored for four months after its launch in 2007.

ALSO READ: NASA's Boeing moon rocket set for 'once-in-a-generation' ground test

CAPE-2, launched in 2013, had fold-out solar panels, a text-to-speech transmitter and a “parrot repeater” that could record audio from Earth and broadcast it back to the sender. Another feature lets visitors to a children’s museum hear their own voices coming back on a radio, as well as send text messages to the satellite. It was monitored for 11 months.

Rizwan Merchant, a NASA systems safety engineer who was assistant project manager for the CAPE-2 launch while a student at ULL and is now the CAPE team's industry mentor, said students will spend a few weeks “grabbing data from the satellite simply to assesses every feature and ensure it’s all working properly.”

ALSO READ: Indian student among winners of NASA app development challenge

Then CAPE team members and students majoring in areas including computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and physics will begin collecting and analyzing the information.

CAPE team member Nicholas Drozda, a senior mechanical engineering student, said the project let him prepare for an aerospace career while conducting research “that could lead to actual innovations in the field.”

Follow HT Tech for the latest tech news and reviews, also keep up with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For our latest videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel.