Tech Students' Winning Satellite Will Be Launched into Orbit

by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer

A team of students has taken first place in the prestigious University Nanosat 6 competition, earning the rare privilege of having the Department of Defense launch its custom-made satellite into orbit.

The University Nanosat Program is sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, which handpicked the 11 teams from dozens of universities across the nation through a competitive selection process.

Each of the 11 teams was then awarded a two-year contract to design and build a satellite to perform a mission of its choosing. The program culminated with a flight competition review, held Jan. 16-17 in Albuquerque, N.M., adjacent to Kirtland Air Force Base. By winning the competition, Michigan Tech received a contract to continue development of the satellite and have it launched into orbit aboard a DOD rocket.

"This is a major accomplishment by our students," said Chair William Predebon (ME-EM). "It's just fantastic."

Built by students in the Aerospace Enterprise, Michigan Tech's entry is named Oculus-ASR, for "attitude and shape recognition" and for its role as an orbiting eye. Students engineered the 154-pound satellite to help a DOD effort called Space Situational Awareness.

"The DOD wants to know what's orbiting the Earth, who owns it, what it's doing, and what it might do in the future," said team advisor L. Brad King, an associate professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics.

Unfortunately, unless you use an extremely powerful telescope, it's hard to tell much about satellites from the surface of the Earth. For the most part, they look like nondescript dots of white light drifting overhead. Yet, the light only looks white to the naked eye. You could learn a lot about those dots by analyzing their spectral content, or color, as it is reflected from the satellite's surfaces. Oculus was designed to help the Air Force do just that.

Each side of Oculus has different optical characteristics. Once it's in orbit, students will be able to manipulate it so that different sides face the Earth. The air force will analyze the spectral content of Oculus as the satellite flies over its Maui Optical and Supercomputing observatory in Hawaii and try to determine the satellite's attitude, i.e., which side is facing earthward.

Then the air force will compare its results with the actual orientation of the satellite, which is sent via radio to a ground station on the Michigan Tech campus. If this technique is successful, observers on the ground will be able to tell what a satellite might be looking at as it passes overhead.

"The air force is also concerned about orbiting objects changing shape," said King, "because if a satellite changes shape, that means its owners have new plans for the vehicle. Our satellite has four panels that can open on command. We'll open those panels to exercise the air force's ability to detect the shape change."

"Our satellite also has two sensitive cameras, which is where it got its name; 'oculus' is Latin for 'eyeball,'" said King. It will release a target, which both Oculus and scientists in Maui will photograph. "We will have two images to compare, one from space, one from ground.

"In general, our role will be to calibrate their telescopes," said King. "It's a very capable little vehicle. There's a lot packed into it."

That functionality is a big reason Oculus won Nanosat 6. "Nobody wants to spend a million dollars to put a beeping university mascot into orbit," King observed. "One of our strengths was our vehicle's relevance to the DOD, the fact that it was doing meaningful science. We had DOD branches approaching us while we were building it, asking to participate. People really care about this."

The idea for this mission came from Professor Mike Roggemann (ECE). "Mike said it would be really cool if someone could do this," King said.

Michigan Tech teams competed in earlier Nanosat competitions in 2005 and 2009, coming in third both times. "But the only one that matters is first, because that's the one that gets sponsored for a launch," King said.

Winning Nanosat isn't quite like a Super Bowl victory. "You get this fantastic news, but it comes on the back of a five-day effort, with the students working day and night," he said. Because the contest is so stressful, "it's hard to tell if they felt exhilaration or release."

Nanosat is exceptionally grueling for a college competition. "Reviewers come from all over government and industry, and they don't take it easy on the teams," he said. "If they see a flaw or have a question, they unload both barrels on the students and make them defend their design. They were expected to satisfy all the requirements of any satellite the air force launches."

Above all, Nanosat teaches students about engineering design, he said. "When they start, they think it's about the final product. Then they discover that design is really about accountability, proving that your design works and vigorously testing it. That's where we excelled," King said. "Our students know how to build things, know how to do hands-on design, and that was an advantage."

King counseled the team to accept their victory with quiet grace, but with limited success. "I told them, 'You get to the end zone, act like you've been there before.'" Restraint, however, was too much to ask of at least one student. "He said later, 'I don't care what you say, I'm dancing.'"

Flexible Work Options Informational Sessions

submitted by the WorkLife Connections Office/Human Resources

Flexible Work Options will be offered to staff starting in mid-February.

These will include Flextime (starting and ending hours that are different than normal times), Compressed Workweek (completing 40 hours of work in fewer than five full days) and Flexplace/Telework (employee regularly works off-site, usually at home).

All of these arrangements will require an employee and supervisor to work together to develop a formal agreement. The goal of Flexible Work Options is to enable staff and management to serve customers well, meet University goals and balance personal and professional responsibilities.

Sessions will cover:

* Overview of Flexible Work Options
* Why they are important to Michigan Tech
* Examples of options available
* Benefits and challenges of Flexible Work Options
* Eligibility
* Guidelines for encouraging success
* Employee responsibilities
* Supervisor responsibilities
* Available resources

The first hour of the session will provide information for everyone; the next half hour will focus on supervisor questions.

All sessions are in the Memorial Union. Schedule follows:

* Monday, Jan. 31, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., in Alumni A
* Tuesday, Feb. 1, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., in Alumni B
* Monday, Feb. 7, from 3 to 4:30 p.m., in Alumni A
* Wednesday, Feb. 9, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., in Alumni A
* Thursday, Feb. 10, from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m., in Alumni A
* Monday, Feb. 14, 1:15 to 2:45 p.m., in Alumni A

Anyone interested in learning more about Flexible Work Options is welcome to attend. Seating is limited. RSVP to Becky Christianson at .

Peer Support Group Invites Tech Students

Anyone experiencing mental or emotional difficulties is invited to join a peer support group run by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group offers peer support with trained group leaders for anyone, 18 years old and older who has been diagnosed with any form of mental illness. It's free; there is no need to register and no obligation to attend regularly.

The group meets from 1 to 2:30 p.m., every Friday, at The Institute, 900 West Sharon Ave., Houghton. For more information, call 296-0601.

"College can be very stressful, and students are away from family and other sources of support," says Carl Evers, a trained peer group leader. "If you would like to talk to people who have experienced similar things, you are very welcome to join us."

Reminder: Making a Difference Award Reception Today

The Making a Difference Award Reception is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m., today, in the Memorial Union Ballroom. The presentation of the awards and certificates will take place at approximately 3:30 p.m.

President Glenn Mroz and the Staff Council encourage the campus community to attend.

Awards are in the following categories: Rookie Award, Unsung Hero, Serving Others, Bringing Out the Best, Outstanding Supervisor, Innovative Solutions and Creating Community Connections.

Award recipients include Karen Bess (ME-EM), Andre Bonen (Housing Facilities), Hubert Hautala (Housing Facilities), Joan Hoffman (Accounting), Joel Isaacson (Athletics), Kari Pietrzyk (MUB), Chuck Schaefer (IS) and Jeremy Worm (ME-EM).

Other nominees for these awards include Carol Argentati (Institutional Diversity), Catherine Burns (Rozsa), Lynda Heinonen (Enrollment Services), Julie Hendrickson (COE), Michele Kamppinen (ECE), Cody Kangas (Precollege Outreach), Marlene Lappeus (ME-EM), Erin Ross (Rozsa), Beth Ruohonen (MSE), Ginger Sleeman (Housing), Rodney Thompson (UMC) and Danielle Treadeau (Alumni).

Refreshments and cupcakes will be served.

For more information, contact Lynda Heinonen at 487-1832 or , or Colleen Erva at 487-1669 or at .

Reminder: Campus Portrait Session Today

The first University portrait session of the year will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., today, in Memorial Union Ballroom B.

This session is open to all faculty and staff members--no appointment necessary. Although you are not required to attend, you are encouraged to do so if a year or more has passed since your last portrait. The date of the second spring-semester photo session will be announced shortly.

Portraits will be taken by Mike Galetto, of Brockway Photography, and will be available for viewing online. A note card with log-in information will be provided at the session. Each participant will receive a retouched portrait, via email, when it becomes available.

To order a print from University Marketing and Communications for University use, send requests to Karina Jousma, photography coordinator, at 487-2330 or at . Pricing is available on UMC's website .

To purchase a print for personal use only, contact Brockway Photography at 482-1900.

For questions, contact Jousma.

Missing Sign Boards

DHRC borrowed eight sign boards to use in advertising the Christmas Bazaar held on, Sunday, Dec. 5. The signs were placed throughout Houghton and Hancock and are now missing and need to be returned.

If you have seen these boards, contact Sarah Anderton (USG) at .

SFHI: Faculty Candidate Seminar

Robert Gilkerson, of the Department of Neurology at Columbia University, will present a seminar, "The Mitochondrial Network: Dynamic Biology and Therapeutic Approaches," at 1 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 25, in Rekhi G05. Gilkerson is a faculty candidate in biological sciences.

Computer Science Seminar

Professor Steven Seidel (CS) will present a seminar, "High Performance Computing and the Center for Computer Systems Research (CCSR)," at 3 p.m., Friday, Jan. 21, in Rekhi 214.

The presentation will characterize the variety of activities supported by the newly formed CCSR and how high performance computing can contribute to research.

Job Posting

Staff job descriptions are available in Human Resources or at . For more information regarding staff positions, call 487-2280 or email .

Faculty job descriptions can be found at .

For more information regarding faculty positions, contact the academic department in which the position is posted.

Staff Posting

Office Assistant 5
Engineering Fundamentals
UAW Internal and External Posting

Michigan Technological University is an equal opportunity educational institution/equal opportunity employer.

In the News

"Spotlight," a national publication of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), featured Michigan Tech's Career Services Job Fair and quoted Career Services Director Jim Turnquist in its most recent issue. See academic information fair .