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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Multi-University Satellite Launch Program Includes Old Dominion

Students from Old Dominion University will participate in a collaboration of four Virginia universities that will develop and fly a constellation of small satellites through NASA 's Undergraduate Student Instrument Program.

The Virginia Cubesat Constellation mission is a project of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium in Hampton and four member institutions -- Old Dominion, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Hampton University.

Students at Old Dominion will help develop one of three, 3-pound nano-satellites, about four inches square, which will record measurements of the properties of Earth's atmosphere, said Bob Ash, professor and Eminent Scholar in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Old Dominion.

As the orbits of the satellites decay because of atmospheric drag, the satellite payloads will quantify atmospheric density. The system will also determine and communicate relative and absolute spacecraft position across the orbiting constellation.

The Old Dominion students will work to incorporate a drag brake into the cubesat, Ash said. Ultimately, about 20 students will be involved as part of their capstone engineering design project.

The work will be done by cross-institutional teams in physics, electrical engineering, aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering. The students have 18 months to deliver the satellites to NASA for launch.

More than 50 undergraduates will be involved through nine university courses and two extracurricular independent study topics. The engineering students will collaborate with students in Hampton University's Department of Atmospheric and Planetary Science.

"Our consortium has been actively sponsoring and coordinating student flight projects for more than 20 years," director Mary Sandy said. "Engaging students in real-world space missions offers them exciting educational opportunities that provide critical workplace skills."

NASA is providing the launch on a vehicle yet to be specified, but the spacecraft will likely be placed into orbit as part of an International Space Station resupply mission.

The cubesats will be deployed into orbit nearly simultaneously so they can orbit together and function as a constellation. The satellites will orbit Earth for about two months at an altitude of 250 miles before burning up upon re-entering the atmosphere.