Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Air Force cadet from
isles works on satellite

Associated Press

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. >> A woman from Hawaii is among several astronautics students building a $2 million satellite scheduled to be launched in January from NASA's space shuttle Atlantis.

The 40-pound, solar-powered, aluminum satellite, called FalconSAT-2, is expected to solve some problems the military has with communications.

FalconSAT-2 is engineered to record data about bubbles, or plasma pockets, that cluster together and interfere with signals for everything from helping bombs hit their targets to allowing troops to talk to each other.

It should record data for up to eight months and then burn up in the atmosphere. The data will be analyzed to help forecast signal outages.

Fifty cadets majoring in physics, computer and astronautical engineering spend about five class hours a week and countless hours after school and on the weekends building FalconSAT-2 from scratch.

For two semesters, much of their work centers on a "clean room" where they build the delicate circuitry that will run the satellite.

The room, enclosed in clear plastic, keeps out dust and other particles. Cadets wear white coats and caps, gloves and shoe covers inside.

Senior Elizabeth Young, an astronautical engineering major who wants to be an astronaut, is a team leader charged with designing the satellite's solar panels.

"I've always been interested in space," said Young, a Hawaii native who will go to pilot training after she graduates next month. "Staring up at the stars at night is amazing."

The Department of Defense had dozens of requests for other uses of the extra cargo space on Atlantis, but Pentagon officials liked the cadets' pitch for their project.

The satellite is due for delivery to NASA in July.

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