LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - It seems these days everyone has a satellite, and LeTourneau University in Longview isn’t going to stay grounded on that one. They have plans to get some of their own technology into space. Their prototype is smaller than a shoebox.
Students at LeTourneau are always tinkering with something, and Mechanical Engineering Professor Byron Lichtenberg and one of his students, John Sooan, have big plans for something pretty small.
“LetSat is a program here at LeTourneau that allows students to get involved in aerospace; specifically our mission is to design and build a CubeSat,” Sooan said.
LetSat stands for LeTourneau Satellite, but what is a CubeSat?
“CubeSats are a standard that came out of collaboration between Stanford and CalPoly in 1999,” Sooan explained.
Sooan’s instructor says CubeSats are:
“Ten centimeters, about four inches on a side. So the original cube of one unit is four by four by four inches,” Lichtenberg explained.
And he says they are typically stacked to be packed with varied tech.
“And we’re in our second year of student-led development,” Lichtenberg stated.
The LetSat’s purpose will be to:
“Take pictures of the Earth, and then use artificial intelligence to determine the satellite’s position over the Earth,” Lichtenberg revealed.
Lichtenberg, a former astronaut, says the LetSat will use a Graphics Processing Unit.
“Which is like 192 computers in all in one little bitty chip,” Lichtenberg stated.
Their plastic model will be rebuilt in aluminum and tested.
“We shake it, vibrate it, we know that everything’s going to stay together and not come apart,” Lichtenberg explained.
“So is this going to be launched at LeTourneau Space Camp?” I asked Lichtenberg.
“No,” he laughed “There’s several different ways of getting these getting these CubeSats into space. NASA actually has a CubeSat launch initiative.”
It’s sort of like hitchhiking but with paperwork, mostly to the International Space Station where the satellites are launched with:
“Basically it’s a Nerf gun. It’s a spring loaded canister that they actually aim away from the station and launch the satellites out of that,” Sooan added.
That is one expensive, and not a very soft, Nerf Ball...er, box.
Recently two CubeSats accompanied the Mars Lander, InSight, all the way to Mars, relaying telemetry and taking pictures. LeTourneau plans to get their CubeSat into orbit in 2020.