Participants in the ASU Student Satellite Program, directed by Aerospace
Engineering Professor Helen Reed, are putting the finishing touches on
the Three Corner Sat, a constellation of three nanosatellites, slated
for launch on the NASA space shuttle in 2003. The satellites will
undergo final testing by the ASU team and be turned over to the Air
Force Jan. 28 for further tests.

The satellites, commissioned by the U.S. Air Force to demonstrate
formation flying technologies, have been completely designed, built
and tested by university students. A team of ASU students, which
successfully built a nanosatellite that was launched in 2000, took the
lead on the project. Students from New Mexico State University and the
University of Colorado at Boulder are also participating.

"We’re proving that nanosatellite technology can work," says Lauren
Egan, a program manager with the team and a junior chemical engineering
major. "We are proving you can do useful scientific work on a satellite
that is much smaller than a standard one."

Each of the satellites is about the size of a computer monitor and built
out of aluminum machined locally in the Valley. The satellites, carrying
the names Sparky, Ralphie and Petey — the mascots for the three
schools — each have identical internal components. The units have been
designed to withstand two tons of force and follow the rigorous safety
guidelines set in place by NASA to be aboard the space shuttle.

Although small, the spacecraft are capable of acting independently or
as a network. Each of the satellites will have communications equipment
to allow it to talk to the ground monitoring stations and to the other
satellites. One of the primary missions of the free-floating satellites
will be to test how well the communication and activities of the trio
can be managed. Also on board are cameras that will take stereo images
of Earth to be transmitted back to the monitoring stations.

The third major task for the satellites will be to provide a space
flight test for part of a new propulsion technology. The free molecule
micro-resisto jet technology, developed by the Air Force, could be
important in future space missions, providing a way to use safe
propellants, such as water, to generate thrust.

Reed, who worked with the students for seven years on the previous
satellite and for three years on this project, says the students are
the driving force behind the effort. More than 200 students have been
involved in the project. She says it is exciting to see the effort put
forth by the team.

"As students, we look for new and innovative solutions. When we told
the camera company we were considering using their cameras in space,
they laughed at us," says Mike Schoenoff, a team program manager and
a senior in mechanical engineering. "Our testing shows it can be done.
We may be told it can’t be done, but we try it anyway. Our approach
has always been to try low cost and simple solutions."