CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
UH students Michael Menendez, Aukai Kent and Kaipo Kent are collaborating on a satellite program at the University of Hawaii that aims to design and launch small satellites from the Pacific Missile Range facility on Kauai. CLICK FOR LARGE
UH to launch satellites
$40 million is going toward a capability no other university has
» Student engineer hitches his future to UH star
THE University of Hawaii at Manoa is on its way to becoming the only university in the world capable of launching small satellites.
The project received a $4 million boost from Congress this year through the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
"If Hawaii were a country, we would be the eighth nation in the world to have this capability," said Peter Mouginis-Mark, interim director of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology and acting associate dean for research of the College of Engineering.
Luke Flynn, director of the Space Grant Consortium in the School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology, said the program is working on an agreement to launch student-developed satellites from the Pacific Missile Range on Kauai.
Wayne Shiroma, associate professor of electrical engineering, started the UH Small Satellite Program in November 2001, and his students have built several generations of small satellites called CubeSats, about the size of a soda can.
Their first satellite, plus 13 from other universities, were on a Russian rocket that crashed after liftoff last July.
Small-satellite programs have had to piggyback on big satellites for launch because rockets cost millions of dollars, Shiroma said.
The Russian rocket was for an Egyptian satellite, he said. "We had to wait two years before we got a promised launch date. It was frustrating for everyone, but it was cheap -- only $40,000 to launch a university small satellite."
There appears to be an urgent need for small satellites, Shiroma said, as recently "the Chinese demonstrated they could blow up a satellite in space using one of its missiles."
"It's much harder for enemies to shoot down a whole network of small satellites versus one big one," he said.
Flynn said the small-satellite program is being done on a larger scale by both the College of Engineering and SOEST. "We're attempting to call it the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory."
Luke is director; Shiroma, from electrical engineering, and Carlos Coimbra, from mechanical engineering, are co-directors. Lloyd French of SOEST is program manager.
Shiroma has about a dozen students working on satellites ranging from those "that can fit in the palm of a hand, to the size of a microwave."
French has 10 students working on MicroSat satellites, about the size of a large microwave oven.
The goal is to put two satellites into orbit, with the first launch in 2009 and the second in 2010, Flynn said.
Students will design, build and integrate the satellites into a rocket, launch it and do orbit operations, he said.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Matthew Patterson studies his notes before a presentation for phase A of a satellite program at the University of Hawaii's Pacific Ocean Science & Technology building. CLICK FOR LARGE
The total cost for satellite development, rockets and launch is estimated at about $40 million, with funds from Congress, UH and NASA, Flynn said.
A primary goal is to develop a technically trained work force and "try to keep the talent in Hawaii to do these projects here," Flynn said.
French joined UH three years ago after 15 years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he was a systems architect and worked on a number of NASA-related spacecraft missions.
Small satellites are as complex as large spacecraft, just on a much smaller scale, he said. "We're trying to meet the challenges and get each of the subsystems working together. We're looking basically at a platform for doing remote sensing."
The students are trying to develop a "spacecraft bus," or platform where various instruments can be mounted, he said.
French said he's trying to develop student skills related to aerospace and engineering fields. Each student works on a subsystem, such as structures, telecommunications or a command data system for the computer.
"Not only are they busy working on design for their own subsystem, but they need to work together as a team," he said, because the subsystems must be coordinated and must work together on the spacecraft.
The students are getting the kind of experience that they can't get in a classroom, French said:"Most institutions have to grow this talent in-house."
Flynn said students also might come for training from states that have small-satellite groups but don't have receiving stations to communicate with satellites and download data.
Small companies also would have an opportunity to test hardware in space, Flynn said.
Shiroma said small satellites could perform many different missions, such as disaster mitigation in a hurricane, or in case a satellite were destroyed and sensing capability were needed immediately.
They also could be used for technology demonstrations, he said, saying that today's satellites run on battery and solar power. UH is a leader in developing hydrogen fuel cells, which could be tested on a small satellite to see whether the technology could power a large satellite, he said.
"One of the most exciting opportunities for me personally is to provide job opportunities for our graduates," Shiroma said. The program will be ramped up significantly in the next few years, requiring more people not only to build spacecraft but also for ground-based monitoring, he said.
About 150 students have graduated from UH-Manoa who worked on small satellites, and most found jobs elsewhere, Shiroma said.
"This allows us to hire back some of the students so they can get education in small-satellite technology and work in that field," he added.
Student engineer hitches his future to UH star
Monte Watanabe thought initially he'd just get his electrical engineering degree from the University of Hawaii-Manoa in May and go to work.
Then Wayne Shiroma, associate professor of electrical engineering, recruited him in his junior year to develop small satellites.
"It's awesome. I didn't expect to learn this much," said Watanabe, 21, a senior from Wailuku, adding that he plans now to stay at UH two more years and get a master's degree under Shiroma.
Shiroma's students are working on the fourth generation of small satellites called CubeSats.
Watanabe said he's helping with the mechanical structure and housing of the satellite and doing some integration, "making sure everything can be connected, and also working on the payload and a new type of antenna we're going to test out for a satellite network."
Because the satellites are small, a large number of them are needed to maintain the capability and function of a large satellite, he said, "so the plan is to have a network of small satellites."
"We're trying to develop a new type of antenna and link to connect all these satellites together.
"An important side to the satellite, I feel, is it's not just helping me out," Watanabe added. "If we can get the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory, all students will benefit from future job opportunities and knowledge we have in Hawaii.
"A lot of students will have job opportunities, and maybe I'll be one of them."