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NEWS
ThickSat Satellite Headed To Outer Space
December 24, 2020

It is the dream of virtually every aerospace engineering student to have the opportunity to design, test, and build a satellite that one day could be launched into orbit. Needless to say, very few actually see such a lofty goal come to a successful conclusion.

Now, according to information provided by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), a group of Virginia Tech engineering students are one step closer to achieving this goal as their satellite, the “ThickSat,” has been delivered to the Near Space Launch in Upland, Indiana, for space launch qualification testing.

“This project is providing students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels the unique opportunity to design, develop, test, and monitor their own experimental payload, and see it successfully launched into space,” noted Jonathan Black, professor in aerospace and ocean engineering, co-director for the Center for Space Science and Engineering Research (Space@VT), and director of the Aerospace and Ocean Systems Lab at the Hume Center at Virginia Tech. “Throughout the process, they are gaining critical skills in spacecraft systems engineering and space science that will complement what they are learning in the classroom.”

At Space@VT, Virginia Tech’s ThickSat was developed by a large team of undergraduate and graduate students from across the College of Engineering and the College of Science over the past two years. What began as a conceptual senior capstone design project for a group of aerospace engineering seniors has since been expanded and developed into a complex piece of hardware bound for low-Earth orbit. Once cleared for flight, the completed satellite will fulfill its mission when it launches into space from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility aboard the Cygnus NG-15 spacecraft. The mission is scheduled for launch in February 2021.

According to Kevin A. Shinpaugh, a professor in aerospace and ocean engineering at Virginia Tech, the plan was to design a satellite during the first semester, complete a quick build and test with a low-altitude balloon flight prior to delivering the final space flight payload in the spring. The undergraduates designed and built a prototype but delays in the test phase occurred, and as the seniors graduated and departed Virginia Tech, a group of Space@VT students picked up the project. The project was subsequently passed on to a team of multi-disciplinary graduate students as an extracurricular project at Space@VT.

“This project is unique in that it really extends the capability of traditional ThinSat,” explained Prof. Shinpaugh. “With the combination of multiple trays, the final hardware looks more like a cubesat while utilizing the communications and power systems of a smaller, thinner satellite.”


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