Transmitting data to Earth until its final hours, Utah State University’s student-built satellite appears to have re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated May 24 after surviving a phenomenal 117 days in space.
“It appears our satellite has completed its journey – so we called it,” says USU Get Away Special Team Coordinator Carter Page, who tweeted early Tuesday morning to the team’s 800+ Twitter followers, “A big thanks to everyone involved, who made this dream a reality.”
Named “GASPACS” (Get Away Special Passive Attitude Control Satellite), the 4-inch-cube satellite was deployed into Earth’s orbit from the International Space Station Jan. 26, 2022. The tiny box completed its primary mission — deploying a novel, expandable boom and sending an image of the boom — within 18 hours, after successfully activating its antenna and communicating with Earth within an hour into orbit.
The effort, funded by a 2013 NASA award, was the culmination of more than 10 years of effort by entering-and-graduating cohorts of GAS Team members. The cubesat was launched to the ISS Dec. 21, 2021, aboard a SpaceX CRS-24 resupply rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
“So much could have gone wrong,” said then-undergraduate GAS Team coordinator Jack Danos, who completed his bachelor’s degree at USU this spring. “As many as 50 percent of launched cubesats are never heard from again. To get just the initial communication was amazing.”
And GASPACS continued to deliver, transmitting the first bars of “The Scotsman,” USU’s iconic spirit song, along with flashy selfies of its boom with spectacular views of planet Earth in the background. GAS Team members reveled in Twitter posts of the satellite’s data transmissions picked up by a growing group of amateur radio operators around the globe, along with their own transmissions received at the team’s ground station atop USU’s Dean F. Peterson Engineering Laboratory Building.
Page says data and images from the little satellite will continue to fuel the GAS Team’s research and student projects for months to come. He’ll spend the summer wrapping up the GASPACS project and preparing for an opening social in early fall semester to recruit new team members.
The next project? “Another satellite,” says Page, a third-year mechanical and aerospace engineering major. “We plan to go bigger with our next mission.”
GASPACS’s 2021 launch marked about 20 years since the GAS Team sent an experiment into Earth’s orbit. The team is largely responsible for USU sending more student-built experiments into space than any other university in the world. From 1982 to 2001, the team sent at least 11 payloads containing more than 30 projects into space aboard NASA’s space shuttles. Since then, the team has conducted several experiments on NASA microgravity “vomit comet” flights and sent experiments aloft using weather balloons.
Page says he’s grateful to USU’s Department of Physics, which coordinates the GAS Team, along with the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science, which also contribute to the team’s efforts.
“GASPACS has taught me a great group of determined people can accomplish anything,” Page says. “Whether young or old, we can do amazing things together.”
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