A group of undergraduate students at the Colorado University got to take part in a very awesome class project on Monday. They got to take an malfunctioning NASA satellite out of commission. How? They crashed it, of course.
Students at the Colorado University have been helping NASA control five satellites for the last seven years and this week they got to take one out.
The satellite, known as the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, orbited Earth for seven years, gathering valuable data on the polar regions and helping scientists develop a better understanding of ice sheets and sea ice dynamics. The CU-Boulder control team at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics – made up primarily of undergraduates who work side-by-side with LASP professionals – had been controlling the satellite since the mission started in 2003. However, when the scientific payload shut down and couldn't be fixed, the satellite needed to be decommissioned. The students uploaded commands for the satellite to burn its remaining fuel and switched off the transmitter.
LASP Missions Operations and Data Systems Director Bill Possel said the satellite successfully re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on August 30, with most of it burning up. About 200 pounds of the satellite was expected to survive re-entry and the pieces of debris fell into the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean.
Though taking out a satellite was probably all kinds of awesome, the students at LASP had to go through a rigorous process to even get accepted for the program. Colorado University says the students have to go through an intensive 10-week summer training program followed by practical and written tests to get certified as satellite controllers. They work 20 hours a week, including nights, holidays and winter and spring breaks.
"Student operators provide a lower cost to NASA, and CU students at LASP receive hands-on training and experience that helps position them for a future in space-related careers," said Possel.
Despite the hard work, the students there seem to love what they do. Katelynn Finn, a junior who has been a LASP satellite mission controller for more than a year said it was amazing to get hands-on experience controlling multimillion-dollar NASA satellites.
"The experience I'm getting at LASP is already preparing me for a career in aerospace once I get out of college," Katelynn added.