NNU News

CubeSat design team receives third NASA Space Grant

October 16, 2015

Northwest Nazarene University’s CubeSat design team recently received a NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium (ISGC) undergraduate research grant for the 2015-16 year. The grant will fund the MakerSat-1 project, Idaho’s ISS-based CubeSat Research Platform.

This is the third ISGC grant awarded to NNU’s CubeSat team during the past year. The team is led by NNU engineering faculty members and principal investigators Dr. Stephen Parke and Dr. Joshua Griffin. The amount of the first grant was $5000 in October 2014, and the second was $20,000 in March 2015. This most recent grant, received in September 2015, was $25,000. Each of these grants has been matched 1:1 by NNU. The funding supports four NNU undergraduate engineering student researchers, the costs of satellite construction, testing and travel.

The NNU research team is designing a new type of four-inch, cube-shaped satellite called a “CubeSat” to be fabricated and deployed into Earth’s orbit directly from the International Space Station (ISS). CubeSats have been designed and built by several universities and companies over the past decade to study space sciences and to demonstrate new space technologies. However, until now, these CubeSats have had to be launched into space on board rockets and space capsules.

The NNU team is partnering with Made In Space (MIS, a startup company based at NASA Ames, Mountain View, Calif.) to develop the world’s first satellite to be built in space and not on Earth. Dubbed MakerSat-1, its structural frame will be 3D printed on the ISS and then snapped together with solar cell and electronics boards by the astronaut crew and deployed directly into orbit, thus avoiding a typical high-g launch.

This past year, MIS demonstrated the first 3D printer that can fabricate parts in zero gravity on the ISS. NNU’s MakerSat-I design will be emailed to the ISS and printed there on the MIS Additive Manufacturing Facility 3D printer in 2016.

A primary benefit of this research is the significant cost reduction of launching to the ISS only the raw materials needed to build satellites there, rather than launching fragile, high volume earth-manufactured satellites. NNU senior team member Mitch Kamstra (Spokane, Wash.) explained, “Printing the frame of the CubeSat while in orbit, means not having to design for a high-G launch allowing for the use of a lighter material and a more delicate and optimized design.”

“NNU is the first university to partner with NASA and MIS to design a CubeSat specifically for space manufacture. It is so exciting for our students to have an opportunity to literally make history!” Parke said.

The MakerSat-1 engineering prototype will be delivered to MIS and NASA in 2016, hopefully for deployment by the end of 2016. NASA will test the flight model for ISS assembly and deployment into orbit, and the prototype will be fitted with an HD camera, IMU, magnetometer and other sensors onboard with data radioed continuously to Earth receiving stations via the GlobalStar satellite network.

Learn more about NNU's ABET accredited engineering program at nnu.edu/engineering.

Photo caption: Original members of the NNU CubeSat team examine their preliminary design concepts.