On August 19 & 20th Ian Hoffman, Quest Faculty, and two Quest students, Will Olstad and I, attended the CubeSat Student Workshop at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. CubeSats are small, 10x10x10 cm satellites that weigh no more than 1.3kg. They are launched as secondary payloads on launch vehicles, meaning that they ‘hitch a ride’ on large-scale rocket launches in order to substantially reduce the cost of placing a satellite in orbit. CubeSats were originally developed by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and Stanford University’s Space Systems Development Lab in 1999, as an engineering project to facilitate space exploration for university students. Although the concept of launching small satellites as a secondary payload is not a new idea, the CubeSat differed in its predetermined structure and eventually became a standard. The concept increased in popularity and eventually NASA founded the CubeSat Initiative, where institutions can apply to have their CubeSat launched on NASA’s vehicles. Currently, universities, private firms, and government organizations are designing CubeSats for a variety of reasons, from tracking cloud coverage to developing space technologies.
We attended the workshop on a fact-finding mission to explore how Quest could become involved in the CubeSat initiative. The majority of the conference was focused around the logistics of getting a CubeSat launched by NASA, however, we did explore the design process of the CubeSats themselves. The conference was mainly facilitated by the students of University of Alaska Fairbanks, and attended almost entirely by engineering students from the United States. Being among the few representatives from a liberal arts college, we soon realized that if Quest wanted to get seriously involved in space exploration, it would make sense to partner with a larger engineering-focused institution. Quest’s President Peter Englert agreed that the best way to get involved would be to work with other institutions. “I feel that our way of asking questions can contribute a lot to discussion with teams of science and engineering students working to create important space related experiments,” he said.
While participating in the various workshops offered, I found that indeed liberal arts students could contribute a lot to the discussion. Quest students come from a different background and could contribute a lot to the idea development stage. Furthermore, engineering projects could complement our science oriented students’ questions, granting them an opportunity to be exposed to experiences a small liberal arts school cannot provide. There are practical first steps and initiatives within reach that Quest could take in order to get involved. “The creativity and affinity for novel directions that is cultivated at Quest would be a valuable addition to the small-satellite effort. The first steps for Quest may be to develop ground stations, remote terrestrial stations, and rocket payloads—all of which are complete projects unto themselves,” said Ian Hoffman, Physics Tutor at Quest.
Another non-traditional attendee was Portland State Aerospace Society, a small, student-driven engineering club. They have yet to launch a CubeSat, but have launched multiple ultra-low-cost, open source rockets. They invited us to tour their rocket lab in the basement of the engineering building, equipped with a vending machine filled with Arduinos and other lab supplies! We spoke about attending their next rocket launch in 2017, and we hope that Quest can find a place for itself in the field of space exploration.