Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

February 17, 2013

More satellites from MSU on the way

MOREHEAD — Scientists at Morehead State University are hoping to build and fly on NASA missions a series of satellites based on one they built and launched into orbit last year.

The satellites would collect data scientists would use “to produce the most precise measurement ever made of the diffuse X-ray background emanating from the early universe,” said Ben Malphrus, chairman of the earth and space sciences department and director of the MSU Space Science Center.

“This work and these measurements will provide insight into the physics of the early universe,” Malphrus said.

The satellite is the CXBN, one of the breadloaf-sized cubesats that are revolutionizing space missions, making space accessible to smaller universities and the private sector.

The acronym stands for cosmic X-ray background nanosatellite, and the measurements it takes will help scientists understand more about the origins of the universe.

The CXBN -2 would be an improved version that would make more precise measurements.

When the first satellite was launched in September 2012 as a secondary payload on a NASA rocket, it marked the first launch and successful orbital deployment and operation of a satellite entirely built in Kentucky.

It was built entirely at Morehead State by students and faculty at the space science center.

The satellite in orbit now was mostly successful in terms of packaging the technology and getting it into orbit, but less so in delivering measurements as precise as needed, Malphrus said.

What scientists learned from the first satellite’s shortcomings they will use in designing the revised one, and Malphrus envisions a series of satellites, all made in Morehead.

 The cubesat format was invented by MSU professor Bob Twiggs in 2004 during his tenure at Stanford University. The term refers to a miniaturized satellite built to specific dimensions and often using off-the-shelf electronics, making them affordable and compatible with NASA launch rockets.

The next mission for the revised satellite is a couple of years in the future, and a long-range goal is mapping the entire sky, Malphrus said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.

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