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UGA's First Student-built Satellite is On Its Way To The International Space Station

October 4, 2020

After a perfect launch Friday night from Wallops Flight Facility, the satellite, along with other supplies and experiments will reach the ISS early Monday morning.

The Antares rocket, which is carrying UGA’s first research satellite, launched at the Wallops Facility in Virginia. (Courtesy of NASA)

After a couple aborted attempts, SPOC, which is short for Spectral Ocean Color, hitched a ride aboard an Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft on Friday night, Oct. 2. Its next stop will be the International Space Station, arriving early Monday morning in the Cygnus space craft along with supplies for the inhabitants of the ISS and other experiments, including a female-friendly space toilet.

After a few weeks stay on the ISS, SPOC will be deployed into orbin from it's NanoRacks deployer system. Once deployed, the SPOC will monitor the health of coastal ecosystems from space. The satellite is poised to provide valuable data to researchers at UGA and beyond. It features an advanced optic system that can zoom in on coastal areas to detect chemical composition and physical characteristics on ocean and wetland surfaces—all of which fits into a spacecraft that’s about the size of a loaf of bread.

In the span of a week, two launch delays drew out the anticipation for this long-awaited success. Originally scheduled for Sept. 29, the launch moved to Oct. 1 due to anticipated weather conditions. The university held a prelaunch virtual event for the Bulldog community to celebrate the accomplishment, and everything seemed to be ready for a perfect Thursday night launch. But with less than three minutes before liftoff, ground support equipment problem forced NASA to scrub the launch. In just short of 24 hours later, however, the Anteres rocket had a perfect countdown and liftoff.

“This is everything,” said Hollis Neel, a UGA graduate and co-founder of UGA’s Small Satellite Research Lab, who watched the launch virtually. “This was the goal that a bunch of us had years ago, which was to send something into space.”

“The most important date for our success will be sometime in November when the satellite is actually deployed, and the scientific mission begins,” said Mishra.

The lab hopes to have a second satellite, MOCI, which stands for Multi-view Onboard Computational Imager, ready to launch in fall 2021. And a third satellite is in development with help from a local nonprofit, Let’s Go to Space.

The Small Satellite Research Lab is a collaboration between students and faculty researchers across multiple disciplines to create a new class of small satellites to support UGA research through big dreams and innovation.

“This project would be nowhere without students,” said Deepak Mishra, a UGA geography professor and director of UGA’s Small Satellite Research Lab. “Undergraduate students came with the skills, and faculty researchers gave them a scientific purpose.”

Some content for this post is from by by Aaron Hale.

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