Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB), a space technology company, will launch the first satellite designed and built by high school students into Earth orbit aboard a Minotaur I rocket next week. The small satellite, known as TJCubeSat (TJ³Sat), will be launched aboard the U.S. Air Force’s ORS-3 mission as one of more than two dozen secondary payloads the Minotaur rocket will carry into orbit. The mission is scheduled to take place from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia. The launch is currently scheduled for Tuesday, November 19, 2013, at approximately 7:30 p.m. (EST).
The TJ³Sat is a small-size CubeSat developed, built and tested by students from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. Over the past several years, volunteers from Orbital’s technical staff mentored the student team and provided engineering oversight, while the company made its space testing facilities available and provided financial support for the satellite project. TJ³Sat was assigned to the ORS-3 mission launch through NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program based on launch manifest availability.
The TJ³Sat project was conceived as a method to interest students around the world in space-related science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. TJ3Sat utilizes the CubeSat standard design developed by Stanford University and California Polytechnic State University. The cube-shaped satellite measures approximately 3.9x3.9x4.5 inches (10x10x12 centimeters) and has a mass of about 2.0 pounds (0.89 kilograms).
The TJ3Sat’s payload is a phonetic voice synthesizer that converts strings of text to voice. Once converted, the voice is transmitted back to Earth over amateur radio frequencies. Students from around the world can submit text strings to be uploaded to the satellite for transmission. The satellite’s design and operations data is public, enabling students from other countries to use it freely.
“This partnership between our school and Orbital has allowed the students to gain valuable real-world experience in aerospace engineering and related disciplines, which will serve them well as they continue on their future careers,” said Dr. Evan Glazer, Principal of Thomas Jefferson High School.
Established in 1985, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is the result of a partnership of businesses and schools created to improve education in science, mathematics and technology. Representatives from business and industry and staff of the Fairfax County Public Schools worked together in curriculum design and facilities development for the school.
In 1999, local business leaders and Thomas Jefferson parents formed the Thomas Jefferson Partnership Fund, a non-profit foundation, to help raise private financial support to maintain and equip labs and classrooms in the school. As the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Northern Virginia, the school is also supported by the Virginia Department of Education. In addition to providing a specialized education for selected students in Fairfax County, Jefferson also serves other school districts including Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William counties as well as the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
Employing a combination of U.S. government-supplied rocket motors and Orbital’s proven commercial launch technologies, the Minotaur I rocket, as well as the other configurations in the Minotaur family of launchers, provides reliable and low-cost access to space for government-sponsored payloads. Minotaur rockets are specifically designed to be capable of launching from all major U.S. spaceports, including government and commercial launch sites in Alaska, California, Virginia and Florida. Orbital’s use of standardized avionics and subsystems, mature processes and experienced personnel make Minotaur rockets both reliable and cost-effective for U.S. government customers.