Satellite built by USU students deployed from International Space Station

Jan 27, 2022, 12:21 PM | Updated: Jan 28, 2022, 8:35 am

A satellite built entirely by Utah State University undergraduates has successfully deployed from the International Space Station.

U.S. astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn launched the 4-square-inch GASPACS CubeSat on Wednesday, with the satellite confirming its operation by transmitting the opening notes of Utah State University’s “The Scotsman” back to Earth.

“To hear that tune of ‘The Scotsman’ … that told us that everything we had done — we did it right,” said student GAS team coordinator Jack Danos, who led the team of about 20 undergraduates. “All the testing we had done — it all worked.”

Members of the research team burst into cheers and high-fived each other as they watched the satellite they’d built speed out from the station into low earth orbit.


“That moment was everything,” Danos said. “It’s something that most people can’t ever say they have done – to have something they made be deployed into space, it just feels incredible!”

It took students more than eight years to prepare the Get Away Special Passive Attitude Control Satellite cube, and it’s the first time NASA launched a satellite that was built entirely by university undergraduates.

“It’s been a huge undertaking and a lot of work to meet NASA’s stringent deadlines,” Danos said. “Our team members are busy with demanding classes, as well as jobs to support themselves. They’re performing professional-level space research on top of all of that.”

After the satellite launched, the next concern was if the cube would work as intended.

“We knew it would be about 40 minutes before antenna deployed and began operating,” Danos said. “So much could go wrong. Would the satellite open to allow the antenna to move into position? Would the batteries work?”

Amateur radio operators from Asia and South America reported contact with GASPACS within the hour, and an operator in Argentina shared a recording of the satellite broadcasting the first bars of “The Scotsman,” USU’s iconic spirit song — proof the CubeSat’s antenna deployed and was functioning properly.

“I can’t describe how this feels,” Danos says. “As many as 50% of launched CubeSats are never heard from again. To get this far is amazing.”

The satellite also uses a custom-built inflatable aerodynamic boom to passively stabilize its orbit, but students will have to wait until the cube passes over Logan again to confirm if the boom deployed.

If successful, design elements from the boom could be used for larger objects in the future.

“What these students have achieved is phenomenal,” said Jan Sojka, faculty advisor to the team and head of USU’s Department of Physics. “Most of the team started on the project as freshmen with very little experience. They’ve had to learn how to design, build and communicate with a satellite from scratch.”

“We are all volunteers on this team. We are doing this because we love doing it, not because we get paid to do it. We don’t get class credit,” Danos said. “The primary goal of this mission was to deploy that inflatable boom and transmit a picture down. We have completed our mission; it has been 100% successful.”

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Satellite built by USU students deployed from International Space Station