On April 18, CSUN faculty and students and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineers cheered with relief as NASA launched the university’s first stellar explorer, CSUNSat1, a cube-shaped satellite about the size of a shoebox, to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. An Atlas V rocket propelled the OA-7 Cygnus spacecraft, named the SS John Glenn after the astronaut who was the first American to orbit the Earth. CSUN electrical and computer engineering professor Sharlene Katz said the satellite project is the first of its kind for the university. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” said Katz, who traveled to Cape Canaveral with electrical and computer engineering professor James Flynn to witness the launch. “The satellite hardware and software were designed and built from scratch. The ground station was done from scratch. We want to run the mission. It’s time. We feel confident in it.” CSUNSat1 will be deployed into space from the station in April next year.
CSUN’s ground station command and mission control, located in Jacaranda Hall, will communicate with it via radio. One of the most challenging aspects of the mission will be switching the power source from a general standard battery to JPL’s prototype, Flynn said. “One of the key tests is that the experimental battery has to power the satellite itself,” he said. “It’s like changing your brain without losing your mind. You are doing a transplant. The batteries are not equal; the characteristics are not the same. So, not only do we change the battery, but also how the battery is taken care of, all in 50 milliseconds.” Katz lauded the students for their more than three years of hard work on CSUNSat1. “This is a university — it’s about the experience,” she said. “We’ve invested so much in learning about small satellites. We’d like to try it again.”