NASA will launch the first Maine-built satellite into space at some point in the next three years as part of a collaboration between the University of Maine and three Maine schools.
The Maine-built satellite is one of 18 small research satellite proposals from 11 states that NASA chose to launch into space as part of the federal agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which provides opportunities for educational organizations to conduct research in space using NASA’s resources.
It will launch on an education mission and collect data for projects proposed by students at Falmouth High School, Fryeburg Academy and Saco Middle School.
“We offered to kind of lead this effort,” said Ali Abedi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMaine and director of UMaine’s Center for Undergraduate Research. “The University of Maine will build the satellite, will work with NASA to launch it, and we’ll provide the data to middle schools and high schools.”
Graduate students from UMaine and undergraduate students from the University of Southern Maine will be involved in designing, developing and testing the small satellite, which will be about the size of a loaf of bread.
NASA will launch the satellite, called a CubeSat, sometime in the next three years.
“We’ve been involved with NASA for a long time,” Abedi said. “But when I attended some of these NASA events I realized that Maine hasn’t really sent a satellite to space, so we were one of a handful of states that were behind.”
NASA awarded the University of Maine $300,000 to develop the satellite. The Maine Space Grant Consortium, an affiliate of a nationwide network funded by NASA, also awarded the university $150,000 to fund graduate student research.
Terri Shehata, director of the Maine Space Grant Consortium, said that this first step will hopefully lead to more Maine students’ involvement in the opportunities that the national space program offers.
“It was an important message that Maine can do it,” he said. “We have the capability, we have the brainpower and we are involving students in this exciting endeavor.”
Additional funding from the two universities brings the total award for the satellite development to $522,000 over three years.
Out of the 11 proposals that UMaine received from schools, the university picked the three that proposed collecting data most relevant to Maine’s environmental concerns. The university will collect the data from the satellite, then share it with the schools.
Saco Middle School’s project will involve collecting data related to urban areas that have higher-than-average temperatures, called heat islands.
Fryeburg Academy’s experiment will use satellite images to gauge the quality of shallow, coastal waters based on properties like cloudiness of water — called turbidity — and phytoplankton concentration.
Falmouth High School’s project will study harmful algal blooms to see if they increase atmospheric temperature and water vapor levels in the atmosphere above them.
“We are really short in terms of training students in STEM areas and we thought this is one way to get kids excited about STEM,” Abedi said. “If you can have satellite data in your classroom, you may want to pursue a career in that area.”