MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – A mission years in the making is truly out of this world. And it is from the University of South Alabama.
Dr. Sam Russ, a professor at the University of South Alabama and scientist for the JagSat-1 Mission, spoke with WKRG News 5 about the path leading up to launch and what the team hopes to gain from this endeavor.
“We have been working on the satellite since 2015. Back in 2015, we were able to launch a probe into space on a sub-orbital flight. Based on that, we started the design of our satellite, “said Russ.
“What is exciting about it is our students have been heavily involved. Probably 30 or 40 students have worked on it. Our students designed the circuit board, designed the frame, and all aspects of the design. It takes a lot to design a satellite, but it finally came to fruition.”
The satellite, no bigger than a shoebox, will hitch a ride to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket, launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. will arrive at the ISS by the end of the week. From there, it will be launched from the station into space in an orbit around the Earth.
The goal is this mission is to measure a layer of plasma that surrounds the planet.
“It is going to measure the plasma that surrounds Earth. This will help us to understand how radio signals, like GPS signals, propagate through it,” explains Russ.
It is important to understand how this plasma behaves to improve the accuracy of systems utilizing GPS on Earth.
“GPS works by making a super precise measurement in time. The plasma, when it has fluctuations, can mess up the radio signals and mess up the timing. This can cause GPS to not be accurate. It is one of the main reasons why GPS is not perfectly accurate.”
Another part of this mission is being constructed at the university, and a data-collecting ground station is being built on the roof of Shelby Hall. Once completed, the antenna on top of the building will collect data from the satellite as it passes over.
This science mission is expected to last anywhere from one year to 18 months. Once the mission is deemed complete, the satellite will meet its end leaving no cosmic footprint behind.
“The satellite is designed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. We will be understanding that data for years to come. This is the thrill of engineering. This is why I love being an engineer. For all of us that have worked on it, it is a culmination of years of hard work. To see all that effort pay off, I have a hard time putting it into words.”