Ready for takeoff: UASpace launches a satellite

UASpace’s BAMA-1, a small CubeSat satellite manufactured by Astra, will be launched into space this Saturday, February 5.

Nine UA students travel to Cape Canaveral, Florida to witness the launch in person. UASpace members, advisors and supporters can watch the launch via Astra’s live stream starting at 11 a.m. CST.

BAMA-1 will launch from Rocket 3.3, created by Astra, a company founded in 2016 that makes low-cost rockets, and will orbit 312 miles above Earth. It will be the first rocket launched by Astra with a commercial payload and the first satellite launched into space by the University of Alabama.

In the fall of 2019, UASpace drafted a proposal to NASA to be part of the CubeSat launch initiative. In this program, NASA partners with schools and universities to launch CubeSats into space.

In 2020, NASA announced the satellites chosen to be part of the initiative’s 11th cycle; The University of Alabama’s BAMA-1 was one of them.

BAMA-1, a satellite the size of a loaf of bread, is testing trailing sail technology. This technology will eliminate excessive space debris and shorten the deorbit time of satellites.

John Baker, faculty advisor for UASpace and a professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics, said excessive space debris is a current problem.

“The problem is that at some point you’ll have cascading collisions,” Baker said. “There will be so much debris that it will remove the ability to effectively use that orbit for satellites. It’s important that we start de-orbiting things when they’re at the end of their useful life, and drag sail the will do.

Ian Noonan, president of UASpace and chief technical officer of BAMA-1, said a satellite with current technology deorbits on average in five years, but he expects BAMA-1’s trailing sail technology to deorbit between 50 days and five months. .

Noonan, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student and MBA, joined UASpace, formerly a “CubeSat club,” in 2018 after hearing Baker encourage engineering students to join.

“I’m very proud of this group and the work we’ve done,” Noonan said. “I’m grateful to have had this opportunity.”

Baker said UASpace’s goal was not just to create the CubeSat.

“The goal was also to inspire the next generation, especially in areas of Alabama that might not see the opportunity to go to college or participate in something like that,” said he declared.

UASpace has worked with local middle and high schools to encourage space exploration and engineering. In March 2020, the group created educational videos and worksheets on YouTube. The worksheets cover science and math skills while explaining UASpace’s CubeSat program for K-12 students.

Because the project took nearly three years, many students worked with BAMA-1 but graduated before launch.

“We are really proud of these students who have gone through this program and the teams we have. We encountered obstacles, but we found solutions together,” said Rohan Sood, academic advisor for UASpace and professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics.

Mike Pope, UASpace Advisor and Professor of Marketing, encourages students of all majors to join UASpace. In addition to learning space exploration and engineering, students also learn program management and the skills to communicate on technical topics.

“I think I’m very excited for the students who have been successful, supported the program and are now in the industry,” Pope said. “Just being at this stage is very rewarding. We helped, but most of it was on the shoulders of the students.

Abby Feeder, project manager for the BAMA-1 CubeSat program, will earn an MBA and master’s degree in aerospace engineering this spring. Feeder said UASpace is in the early stages of planning for its next CubeSat, BAMA-2.

“We will see how the [BAMA-1] the launch is going,” Feeder said. “We’re going to take that and create the next generation by adding new technology, expanding the scope of what we want to do as a mission, and involving as many students as possible.”

Feeder said UASpace will work with members, NASA and industry partners to decide which mission is best for BAMA-2.

NASA funded the launch of the BAMA-1 CubeSat from Astra’s Rocket 3.3. Lockheed Martin, Linc Research and the Alabama Space Grant Consortium funded the creation of the BAMA-1 CubeSat. UASpace has also received donations from the UA Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics.

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