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Satellite Built by UMass Lowell Students Headed to the International Space Station

SpaceX to Deliver NASA-Funded Device for Launch into Orbit this Fall

SPACE HAUC shown in Earth orbit
This is an artist's rendering of SPACE HAUC in orbit.

08/26/2021

Contact for media: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

LOWELL, Mass. – It’s all systems go for SPACE HAUC, a miniature satellite designed and built by UMass Lowell students for NASA, which plans to send it to the International Space Station on Saturday for launch into the Earth’s orbit this fall.

Funded by a $200,000 grant from the space agency, the satellite was designed, built and managed by more than 100 students from UMass Lowell’s Francis College of Engineering; Kennedy College of Sciences; College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; and Manning School of Business over the past five years. UMass Lowell Physics Prof. Supriya Chakrabarti, who leads the university’s Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology is supervising the project. 

On Saturday, Aug. 28, the satellite will be on board a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket that will lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:37 a.m. EDT. Members of the public may watch the launch at www.nasa.gov/nasalive.

The launch will mark NASA and SpaceX’s 23rd mission to deliver supplies to the space station. From there, NASA plans to deploy SPACE HAUC into Earth’s orbit in mid-October. 

SPACE HAUC is what’s known as a cube satellite or “CubeSat,” which is a miniaturized, low-cost alternative to larger models. The finished spacecraft measures about a foot in length and four inches in both width and height. It weighs about nine pounds.  

The satellite’s yearlong mission is to successfully demonstrate it can transmit data at up to 50 to 100 megabits per second – significantly faster than current models. Pronounced “Space Hawk,” the spacecraft’s name is a tip of the hat to UMass Lowell’s athletic teams, the River Hawks. The acronym stands for Science Program Around Communications Engineering with High-Achieving Undergraduate Cadres.

“Our goal is to train students to be the next generation of astronomers and space scientists and engineers through hands-on involvement in all phases of the mission, from instrument development to data analysis,” Chakrabarti said. “The purpose of SPACE HAUC is to demonstrate technology that hasn’t been done in such a small package.” 

Once deployed from the space station this fall, the satellite will reach altitudes around 240 miles while circling the Earth approximately every 90 minutes at about 17,000 miles per hour. Four solar panels will supply electricity to power the satellite’s electronics.

Earlier this summer, the instrument passed stress tests that ensured it is flight-ready. 

“SPACE HAUC passed with flying colors. The satellite was able to establish radio communication and deploy its solar panels on command. This was a momentous occasion and I am extremely proud of the work done by our students,” Chakrabarti said.

Once SPACE HAUC is in orbit, the students will maintain a communication link between it and ground stations at UMass Lowell and the MIT Haystack Observatory in Westford. The satellite will stay in orbit for a year or more before it gradually loses altitude and falls back to Earth. As it re-enters the atmosphere, aerodynamic stress and heating will cause it to disintegrate and burn up harmlessly, high above the ground.

Sean Freeman of Medford, who recently earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering at UMass Lowell, co-managed the SPACE HAUC as a student.

“It’s amazing to think that something you’ve helped design and build with your own hands will soon be going to space and orbiting the Earth,” he said. 

Freeman began working as an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, last month. In his new role, he helps conduct structural dynamics testing and analysis of large booster rockets for the U.S. space program. He credits his experience with SPACE HAUC for giving him the knowledge and hands-on training to embark on his new career.

“SPACE HAUC was one of the projects that I talked about during my job interview,” he said. “They feel that I have the experience in doing computer analysis and vibration testing for the rocket components. So, I’m now going to apply what I learned to my new job.”

For physics Ph.D. student Sunip Mukherjee of Lowell, working on SPACE HAUC has been a life-changing experience. He is the team’s software systems engineer.

“The project gave me the opportunity to design a system that has many moving parts, both physically and figuratively, that would have to synchronize among themselves. I learned a lot about hardware, software and their interfaces – an experience that would have taken me many years to gain if not for this project,” he said.

SPACE HAUC is flying as part of NASA’s 37th Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission. Managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy Space Center, ELaNa missions provide a deployment opportunity or ride-share launches to space for CubeSats selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI), which provides launch opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools, NASA Centers, and non-profit organizations. To date, NASA has selected 202 CubeSat missions, 119 of which have been launched into space, with 59 more missions scheduled for launch within the next 12 months. 

Additional funding for SPACE HAUC was provided by the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium and UMass Lowell’s Francis College of Engineering, along with the university’s Honors College Fellowship and Immersive Scholars programs. The project’s research collaborators include Analog Devices, 4C Test Systems, BAE Systems, and MIT Haystack Observatory. 

UMass Lowell is a national research university offering its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu