A team of electrical and mechanical engineering students at the University of Hawai‘i will have their second student-built satellite launched by NASA. UH Mānoa’s Small-Satellite Program is one of 33 selected for this opportunity, ranking sixth on NASA’s priority list.
“This is the first time the team is launching, hopefully successfully launching, a satellite,” said team member Larry Martin, an electrical engineering graduate student.
The 15-member team of undergraduate and graduate students has spent the past two years developing the “Ho‘oponopono” (“to make right”) nanosatellite. It is a radar calibration satellite no bigger than a loaf of bread.
NASA originally chose the team’s first satellite back in 2010 as part of its CubeSat Launch initiative. That satellite will launch into orbit next year. It will act as a demonstration, helping them to improve their second satellite.
“It’s a very seldom opportunity,” said Martin. “To build it completely from scratch, go through the whole design, and then actually launching it into space.”
The purpose of the Ho‘oponopono is to ensure that radar stations are operating as accurately as they should.
“A radar system that a lot of local people here familiarize [themselves] with is the golf ball that is always sitting in Pearl Harbor,” Martin said.
The golf ball Martin is referring to is the Sea-Based X-Band Radar, which monitors the air space around the Pacific Ocean.
“Our satellite will facilitate the calibration process for these radar stations,” Martin said.
A satellite in orbit now called the RADCAL (Radar Calibration) Satellite, launched in 1993, has the same purpose — to calibrate radar stations. It’s the size of a small fridge and was only meant to stay in orbit for about a year.
“The reality is that it will fail one day, and we are expecting it to happen anytime soon,” said Martin. “That is our proposition to build our satellite.”