Published December 20, 2018
If you find yourself on the third floor of Hochstetter Hall, you may spot the UB Nanosatellite Laboratory (UBNL), a humble collection of rooms where students work surrounded by scattered tools and taped-up inside jokes.
It is here for the last eight years that hundreds of students have, day and night, conceived of and built the GLint Analyzing Data Observation Satellite (GLADOS), a nanosatellite that will soon, at last, make its way into Earth’s orbit.
In low Earth orbit, GLADOS will use two cameras – an RGB camera that will collect light from the visible spectrum and a monochrome infrared camera– that will collect light data that captures the size, shape, and material properties of space debris. By classifying this data, scientists will be able to prevent collisions and damage to GPS and other communication satellites used every day, protecting space infrastructure and enhancing Space Situational Awareness.
In November, mechanical and aerospace engineering students Matthew McGovern, Olivia Gustafson, Nicholas Phillips, and Evan Sandler took a shorter journey. The students travelled to New York City to take part in the first annual Astropreneurship Day, presented by Space & Satellite Professionals International, the New York Space Alliance, Oglivy, and Hogan Lovells.
These four representatives of the UBNL had the distinct honor of receiving an Astropreneurship Award, recognizing entrepreneurs or individuals whose efforts have made the commercialization of space in New York State a reality. The UBNL was one of only three award recipients, and the only student group.
“It was a huge honor,” says Matthew McGovern, a senior in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and program manager of the GLADOS mission. “They wanted to recognize UB for being such a powerhouse in producing people competent enough to start their own aerospace businesses.”
Astropreneurship Day was founded to celebrate entrepreneurs in New York who improve and enrich our world through their use of space and satellite technologies. The Astropreneurship Awards are part of Space & Satellite Professionals International’s global Better Satellite World campaign, which supports present and future space innovation by telling stories from this “invisible but indispensable infrastructure.”
John Crassidis, Samuel P. Capen Chair Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and advisor to the UBNL, has watched students develop and construct the satellite piece-by-piece over the last eight years. For GLADOS, UBNL students received competitive funding from the Air Force Research Lab, and partnered with NASA and Moog, Inc. to carry out all aspects of satellite development, including structural design, thermal analysis, circuit design, orbital and spacecraft dynamics, software development, and integration and testing.
“The students here are getting contracts and doing work that could compete with any top 10 university,” says Crassidis, who wishes he’d had something like the UNBL during his undergrad years. “Seeing student learning is the most exciting part of my job,” says Crassidis.
Indeed, real-life experience was what made the group’s Astropreneurship Day experience so memorable. SEAS students were not only recognized for their years of dedication – all work is done on a volunteer basis, with managers averaging 15-20 hours of work a week – but attended and took part in panels, and made valuable connections with people who work in the aerospace field on a daily basis, all from the 18th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. “It was inspiring, and really great visibility for the lab,” says McGovern.
After many years, GLADOS is nearing its launch into space; the team recently finished constructing their Mission Control room, received the last of their flight boards and hardware, and over the next few months, will build the GLADOS flight unit. The team will then rigorously test all of the GLADOS hardware and functionality before having a Pre-Ship Review with the Air Force Research Lab in May of 2019. The 12 kilogram, or 26.5 pound, GLADOS will then be delivered to the Air Force in June of 2019 for environmental testing, with an anticipated launch date sometime in the year that follows.
Students in the UBNL have also been working on LinkSat, a satellite that aims to measure and gain a better understanding of the radio frequency noise environment, and is scheduled to be finished by 2020. Next up, UNBL will be working on a project for the UNP-10 program. This program has supported the development of space science research at about three dozen American universities, involving nearly 5,000 students nationally, over the past 20 years.
“By interacting with the Air Force and meeting professionals, students get hands-on experience –management, documentation, and training –that they can’t get in the classroom,” says Crassidis. “And that’s invaluable.”
The astroprensurship award was presented as part of SSPI and New York Space Alliance First Astropreneurship Day, which was held on November 1, 2018, in New York City.