UVA-Built Nano-Spacecraft is Launched Into Space

We Have Liftoff!

A three-year spacecraft design project undertaken by a succession of undergraduate engineering students culminated Wednesday in a spectacular rocket launch. Now the students will track their craft from UVA.

And we have liftoff!

WOW!

After three years of development by scores of University of Virginia aerospace, mechanical and electrical engineering students, a UVA-built mini-spacecraft blasted off Wednesday toward the International Space Station from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore. The launch vehicle was an Antares rocket.

“That was really cool!” aerospace engineering student and mission manager Erin Puckette said. “It was a powerful experience, not only that you could literally feel, but also for what it symbolized for the project and all the hard work of our team.”

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UVA students and others watch as the rocket carries the CubeSat payload into space.
UVA students and others watch as the rocket carries the CubeSat payload into space. (Lead photo by Christi Addison, University Communications, and all other photos by Dan Addison, University Communications)

The students’ spacecraft – named Libertas, for the goddess of liberty that is found on the back of Virginia’s state seal – is one of three built by engineering students at Virginia universities with sponsorship from NASA and the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. The other two crafts were designed and constructed at Old Dominion University and Virginia Tech. Hampton University is providing technical support.

The nano-satellites, each about 4 inches cubed, are called CubeSats. They weigh about 3 pounds each, and will be used by NASA to gain better understanding of how satellite orbits decay over time in varying atmospheric densities.

The CubeSats will fly as cargo on a Cygnus resupply spacecraft and will arrive Saturday at the International Space Station. In July, astronauts aboard the station will release the three Virginia CubeSats into orbit as a constellation. Students will then track their satellites – circling the Earth at altitudes of about 250 miles – from ground stations over the next year or so.

UVA students will communicate with and operate Libertas via shortwave radio from a mission control station they’ve set up at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. For about a year, until their craft fully re-enters Earth’s orbit and burns up, they will gather and analyze atmospheric data each time the satellite passes over from horizon to horizon – tens of thousands of times.

“Wow! The launch lasted about seven minutes, but my smile lasted for the rest of the day!” UVA mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Chris Goyne said. “It was so wonderful for our team to reach this important milestone. It is hard to believe the next people to handle our CubeSat will be astronauts on the International Space Station.”

Goyne has mentored students throughout the three-year development and construction phase, and will continue to do so as data streams in from Libertas’ lofty orbit.

Now-graduated UVA aerospace engineering students Robin Leiter, left, and Chandrakanth “C.K.” Venigalla, work on an early iteration of UVA’s CubeSat in 2016.
Now-graduated UVA aerospace engineering students Robin Leiter, left, and Chandrakanth “C.K.” Venigalla, work on an early iteration of UVA’s CubeSat in 2016.
Aerospace engineering professor Chris Goyne, center, and graduated students Chandrakanth “C.K.” Venigalla, left, and Robin Leiter in 2016 with a CubeSat mockup.
Aerospace engineering professor Chris Goyne, center, and graduated students Chandrakanth “C.K.” Venigalla, left, and Robin Leiter in 2016 with a CubeSat mockup.
Professor Chris Goyne with students Erin Puckette and Trace LaCour in the CubeSat mission control room at the Engineering School.
Professor Chris Goyne with students Erin Puckette and Trace LaCour in the CubeSat mission control room at the Engineering School.
Aerospace engineering professor Chris Goyne watches the launch with student Kathryn Wason.
Aerospace engineering professor Chris Goyne watches the launch with student Kathryn Wason.
UVA’s CubeSat team: left to right, engineering students Erin Puckette, Wyatt Wilson, Trace LaCour, Justin Javier, Hannah Umansky, Connor Segal and Kathryn Wason.
UVA’s CubeSat team: left to right, engineering students Erin Puckette, Wyatt Wilson, Trace LaCour, Justin Javier, Hannah Umansky, Connor Segal and Kathryn Wason.

Media Contact

Fariss Samarrai

University News Associate Office of University Communications