UH lab steps up satellite program
Classes at Manoa already have made CubeSats for orbit
University of Hawaii scientists and students will soon be designing satellites at a new Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory.
"It's still in its infancy," said Wayne Shiroma, associate professor of electrical engineering and co-director of the program. "The satellites haven't been designed yet."
Shiroma, who started the UH Small Satellite Program in November 2001, said the first space mission is planned for late 2009 from the Pacific Missile Range on Kauai.
Students in the College of Engineering and School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology will design satellites for the launch in the next two years, Shiroma said. "The ones we're going to build are the size of cube-sized refrigerators. They're big but still small by industry standards."
A $4 million congressional appropriation was spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye to start the project through the LEONIDAS (Low Earth Orbit Nanosat Integrated Defense Autonomous System) program.
The funds, covering two launches and two spacecraft, are expected to grow to about $40 million, UH officials said.
Peter Mouginis-Mark, Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology interim director, told the Star-Bulletin in February, "If Hawaii were a country, we would be the eighth nation in the world to have this capability."
He said in a news release about the new laboratory that Hawaii has a unique opportunity "to become a low-cost gateway to space and to place UH as the only university in the world to have both satellite fabrication capabilities and unique, direct access to orbital space."
Many experiments will be possible to study Earth's oceans and continents, he said, "as well as test numerous engineering experiments of the hostile environment of space."
Some new faculty members are being hired for the program, Shiroma said. One is Trevor Sorensen, mission manager for the Clementine mission to the moon in the early 1990s, who will join UH in July.
Luke Flynn, director of the Space Grant Consortium, heads the new Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory.
The scientists have pointed to an urgent need for small satellites, which are not as easy to blow up in space by enemies.
Shiroma's students have built several generations of CubeSats, small satellites about the size of a soda can. Their first satellite and 13 from other universities were on a Russian rocket that crashed after liftoff last year.
In a news release announcing the Space Flight Laboratory, UH-Manoa Interim Chancellor Denise Konan said: "This provides a wonderful opportunity for our UH-Manoa students to gain hands-on training in everything from spacecraft design to launching and operating an orbiting satellite.
"It's a terrific incentive for young people in Hawaii to explore high-tech careers in engineering, physics and geoscience."