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Satellite built by CU students nears launch

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By Business Report Staff September 11, 2013
Last Updated: 15:05 September 11, 2013

BOULDER – A beach ball-sized satellite designed and built by University of Colorado Boulder students to gain a better understanding of how atmospheric drag affects satellite orbits is slated to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sunday, the school announced Wednesday.

The satellite, known as the Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer, or DANDE, is designed to investigate how a layer of Earth's atmosphere known as the thermosphere varies in density at altitudes between 200 and 300 miles. In general, the denser the thermosphere, the more drag there is on spacecraft, said Colorado Space Grant Consortium deputy direct Brian Sanders, who is helping oversee the student group on the DANDE project.

The COSGC involves 17 colleges, universities and institutes in the state and is headquartered in CU's aerospace engineering sciences department. Started with a $110,000 seed grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research in 2007, DANDE has seen roughly 150 students work on it from a variety of engineering departments, as well as computer science and astronomy. The project won the 2009 University Nanosatellite Flight Competition Review held by AFOSR to earn the launch opportunity.

Miranda Link, a senior astronomy major from Johnstown, and Brenden Hogan, a junior aerospace engineering major from Littleton, are the DANDE project manager co-leaders.

"The more information that users have on how changes in the thermosphere are going to affect satellites, the better they can plan in order to avoid problems," Hogan said in a press release. "What we really are trying to do is to improve models of the atmosphere to better understand how it might affect spacecraft."

DANDE, whose primary investigator is COSGC director Chris Koehler, will launch aboard a commercial Falcon-9 Space-X rocket that will also carry other satellites. DANDE, which weights just more than 100 pounds, will carry an accelerometer, a wind and temperature spectrometer, an onboard computer, an orientation control system and radio equipment that will send data to Earth in real time.

DANDE team members hope to gather data for about a year and a half, downloading it several times per day to the COSGC satellite control facility in CU's engineering building.

The launch comes at a point when the Earth nears a "solar maximum," when its 11-year solar cycle reaches peak activity.

"We think there will be more solar activity and more effects on the atmosphere, allowing us to gather more data," Link said.

Click here to view DANDE video.

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