'PARACHUTE' PROTOTYPE DESIGNED TO BRING SATELLITES BACK TO EARTH
Miles above the surface of the Earth, it's getting a bit crowded. A photograph from space reveals millions and millions of pieces of former satellites and other "space junk" making lonely, endless orbits around the globe.
How do we keep this man-made material from negatively affecting future orbital activity? Part of the answer is in creating mechanisms to bring these objects down when their work is done.
A group of senior engineering students have spent their final undergraduate semester wrestling with this issue. And they hope one day that their prototype design for a "parachute" to make tiny satellites fall back down to Earth gets tested by being blasted into orbit.
"If you look at an accurate photo of Earth debris and orbiting satellites, it's like a big snow globe up there," said Juan Parducci, a senior in mechanical engineering from Alexandria, Va. "What we've tried to design is a passive de-orbiting system to bring a small satellite back to Earth within 25 years, after its mission has been completed."
It was one of the projects that students could sign up for in the senior capstone design course in ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology. Parducci and two other senior mechanical engineering majors from Virginia - Kimberly Scheider from Fairfax and Todd Estep from Chesterfield - comprised the team working on the passive de-orbiting system under Bob Ash, Eminent Scholar and professor of aerospace engineering.
Their job was to create an apparatus that would cause a "CubeSat," a 10-centimeter-cubed satellite used commonly to complete small tasks in orbit, to return to Earth within 25 years after its mission has been completed.
Due to the popularity of the project, the trio ended up working with four more students on two other teams, who are tackling different aspects of the same project. One of the teams is focusing on the structural analysis of a nano-satellite during a launch environment, and how it can withstand the rigors of leaving the Earth's atmosphere. The other, a command and control group, is working on data transmission issues in order to manipulate a CubeSat while it is in space.
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Published on: June 1, 2012