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Students working on Alabama’s space economy

HUNTSVILLE, AL--If you think about it from one angle, China landing a probe on the far side of the Moon is depressing. It does seem that another country is surpassing the U.S. in space exploration.

There is evidence that isn't happening. For one thing, Americans have walked on the Moon. The Marshall Space Flight Center is leading the development of the world's most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, and there's something called the Alabama Space Grant Consortium.

"It's the first big step," said UAH Physics student Jared Fuchs, who is also a Student Investigator for the consortium.

The project involved building a satellite and putting it into space.  It would help study gamma-ray bursts, which are high energy explosions in distant galaxies. The bursts are already being studied, but it's tough to figure out the location of the source. Help will come in the form of a still not designed satellite that will hitch a ride on the second launch of the SLS.

"You put that big mission out there and you say we're going to develop this instrument to do that. And we're going to develop a spacecraft. That gets people excited, and it gets people thinking. Not only can we do that cool stuff, but I can do it as a student," said Jared Fuchs.

Students from UAH, Alabama, UAB, Auburn, South Alabama, Alabama A&M and Tuskegee will design and build the satellite. Hopefully, it will go into orbit around the Moon and study gamma-ray bursts.

"Technology, all technology is really just exploiting the behavior of nature," said UAH Engineering Professor, Dale Thomas. He'll be one of the faculty leaders of the project. "When I say exploiting as engineers, putting them to practice to accomplish things that we otherwise would not do. So that is why we chase knowledge, "said Thomas.

Students at UAH and some of the other universities in the consortium already have satellite and space flight experience.  In 2013 UAH launched "Charger Sat". The small cube satellite was a beginning that helped bring us to this latest state-wide cooperative project.

"I believe we have the ingredients to go out and really benefit our state. So that is really what is driving this entire initiative," said Professor Thomas.

Keeping America's edge in technology is big, but so is Alabama being part of the growing world space economy.  Right now that economy is worth $300-billion. By 2040 it's expected to grow to $1.3-trillion.

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