FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The Discovery Museum and Planetarium on the Fairfield and Bridgeport border will be sending a microsatellite only slightly bigger than a milk carton into space on a NASA-launched rocket.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity for an informal science institution,” said Alan Winick, director of museum strategy. “We’re very proud of the fact that we were the only institution of our kind chosen by NASA to get a ride on one of their rockets. All the other players in this tend to be companies and large universities.”
The microsatellite, or CubeSat, that the museum is sending into space cost about $100,000 to make, Director of Space Science Education David Mestre said.
In total, with the University of Bridgeport and University of Hawaii, the project cost about $250,000. In the grand scheme of space science, that's not much, Mestre said.
Once launched, the satellite will be high orbit above Earth, collecting data for students and NASA about "space junk.” It will use a material called aerogel that will collect everything that the satellite runs into with a time stamp and a location.
Dr. Brendan Hermalyan of the University of Hawaii, a former student and volunteer at the Discovery Museum, is one of the NASA scientists working on the project with Mestre and Winick. He will be studying the information that comes from the aerogel.
Even though the satellite won’t be going up into space this year, the museum is looking at restarting its entire space science education program with help from university students and NASA scientists.
“With the Universities of Bridgeport and Hawaii, the Discovery Museum submitted a proposal to NASA where we were going to do a science and education satellite,” Mestre said, which will do several things. “One, it is going to allow kids to actually interact with a real space program.”
The education portion of the program will start this fall, using radio receivers located on the museums roof. That will give students access to a fully operational mission control center, with a computer program that will allow them to manipulate satellites in space.
The students participating in the Mission Control will be able to work with different sensors and an Earth-facing camera while looking at the data coming in about the space junk.
With the satellite's high altitude, Mestre expects the program will last for several years before the satellite falls back to Earth.
“We’re actually starting a space program for kids,” he said with pride.