The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Northrop Grumman’s 10th contracted cargo resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station will deliver about 7,400 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

A team of students and faculty from the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science is contributing to Wednesday’s launch of the Antares rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility.

UVA Engineering students developed a small satellite that will join other satellites, created by Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University, as part of the Virginia CubeSat Constellation, a Virginia Space Grant Consortium project. The CubeSats are designed to take measurements that will help researchers across the country better understand the effects of atmospheric drag on spacecraft and debris that orbit Earth. UVA students have named their satellite Libertas for the goddess of liberty that is found on the back of the Virginia State seal.

Once the satellites are delivered to the International Space Station, astronauts will place them into orbit nearly simultaneously so they can operate together as a constellation.

Over the course of this three-year mission, UVA students will work alongside mentor Chris Goyne, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor as well as director of UVA’s Aerospace Research Lab, to track the craft by radio as it passes from horizon to horizon on each orbit.

“Our students are walking in the footsteps, in essence, of famous NASA programs like the Apollo missions,” says Goyne. “It’s a special experience for them to design, build, test and ultimately fly a craft that goes into space. This will be the first spacecraft developed by UVA and it will have been done almost completely by our talented students.”

Students from Hampton University have developed a tool to help analyze the data from this mission.  UVA students will gather and analyze data from a ground control station that they built in collaboration with local amateur radio enthusiasts. Ground stations at Virginia Tech and ODU will also track and receive data from the orbiting satellites.

Each of the four universities have joined together under the umbrella of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, which receives financial support from NASA and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The teams have greatly benefited from continual guidance and in-kind contributions from not only NASA, but also industry leaders, academic advisors, and staff at Nanoracks, the internationally renowned company charged with supporting student missions aboard the International Space Station.

The multi-university student team, as well as the UVA team, is led by Erin Puckette, a fourth-year aerospace engineering major at UVA.

“It will be so exciting to actually watch the satellite being launched into space. After all the work on the ground, it gives you an idea of how transformative this effort really is,” said Puckette.