UND miniature satellite approved by NASA for spring launch

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A miniature satellite that University of North Dakota students have been working on for nearly five years has been approved for launch by NASA, which ranked the project as the best of its kind in the nation for the last year.

The so-called CubeSat will be North Dakota's first spacecraft to orbit the earth. The 2-pound device will catch a ride on a supply ship heading to the International Space Station sometime next spring.

"We're not quite in that deep space environment, but we're pretty close," said Jeremy Straub, a UND computer science doctoral student who is coordinating the project.

Professor Ronald Marsh, chairman of the UND computer science department and principal investigator of the launch proposal, said the project has been a great hands-on experience that showcases careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

"It's both very exciting and somewhat nerve-racking. If it doesn't work we're going to look pretty silly," Marsh said. "I think from a broader perspective, it shows the breadth of the discipline of computer science and the really neat things students can do with a STEM degree."

About 80 students, some of whom have graduated, worked regularly on the project, and about the same number contributed in a supporting role. It included help from students in several different departments, some of whom investigated licenses, regulations and other legal issues.

"They've really come together to solve problems in a very out-of-the-box way of thinking," Marsh said.

"It's not just building the thing," Straub added. "It's building it, testing it, making sure that it meets all of NASA's acceptance criteria, making sure we have all the I's dotted and T's crossed with the licenses, as well as everything else."

The CubeSat concept originated in the late 1990s at Stanford University and California Polytechnic. UND's CubeSat is meant to be a template for others who could eventually buy the plans off the shelf and integrate their own components.

"It's all about making a satellite less expensive," Straub said.

Part of the mission will have the spacecraft fly over Grand Forks, where it will be able to capture imagery and download its data to a ground control station on the UND campus.