UB students build "space junk" satellites for NASA and the Air Force

Jul 22, 2015

Students at the University at Buffalo will be helping NASA and the U.S. Air Force track debris in space.

The two agencies have ordered space debris-tracking microsatellites from U.B.

"Space debris is a growing problem that threatens not only the International Space Station and other human-occupied spacecraft, but also satellites that we rely on for weather prediction, navigation, communications and other important matters," notes John Crassidis, PhD, Professor in Space Situational Awareness at U.B.'s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

UB students are helping to design and build space junk microsatellites for NASA and the Air Force
Credit Courtesy of Douglas Levere/www.buffalo.edu/news

"The amount of space junk isn't the issue," says Crassidis. "It's the fact that it's traveling about 17,500 mph. So a very small piece of space junk, like a little marble, can wipe out a very large satellite."

U.B. Students are taking part in the designing and construction of the briefcase-sized microsatellites.  The satellites will house powerful cameras, sensors and other technology aimed at monitoring thousands of manmade objects, otherwise known as space junk, orbiting the earth.

"This is great for the students cause not many students get to build an actual satellite. They're very excited.  We currently have about 50 students involved, spanning throughout engineering but also in physics and math too. There's a lot of things that need to go into building a satellite. It's really multidisciplinary aspects that come into this. We have electronic components, the power, the mechanical, the structure. We're dealing with extreme temperature variations in space and also a very harsh environment, so these instruments have to be able to survive there."

Once the satellites are built, they will be launched into orbit. The satellites will collect data and study debris to determine size, shape and speed in an effort to track the items.