University of Colorado-Boulder
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0009
March 10, 1998
Called the Student Nitric Oxide Explorer, or SNOE, the satellite carries an ultraviolet spectrometer and two photometers to measure nitric oxide in the upper atmosphere, X-rays from the sun and light from the Earth's aurora. Nitric oxide is a small but reactive component of the upper atmosphere that affects the temperature and density of near-Earth space and may be important to the chemistry of the ozone layer, said Stan Solomon, deputy investigator on the project.
Developed at CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the NASA mission is being controlled from LASPs Research Park facility in Boulder 24 hours a day by students and faculty. The science data we are getting back from the satellite look great, said Solomon. NASA has been very supportive, and things are going smoothly.
The design and construction phase involved about 110 CU-Boulder students, primarily undergraduates, said Solomon, who is coordinating the SNOE effort with principal investigator and LASP Professor Charles Barth. The $5 million includes the cost of the spacecraft, instruments and mission operations.
SNOE is only the second NASA satellite to be entirely operated and controlled by a university. The first, the Solar Mesosphere Explorer satellite, which gathered data on ozone and solar radiation variability from 1981 to 1988, also was controlled from CU-Boulder under the direction of Barth, said Solomon.
SNOE was one of three spacecraft selected for flight by the Universities Space Research Association in 1994 as part of NASAs Student Explorer Demonstration Initiative. The CU-Boulder spacecraft, the first to launch, will be followed by a Boston University satellite later this year.
The students tapped into the expertise of engineers from LASP, Ball Aerospace Corp. of Boulder and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, working with them in all phases of the project. The students brought enthusiasm, new perspectives and the ability to work long and productive hours, Solomon said. In some cases they managed to solve problems that stumped the rest of us.
The original goals of the initiative were to demonstrate the feasibility of designing and building small, relatively low-cost spacecraft that could accomplish beneficial science and include significant student participation, said Solomon.
The people who dreamed up NASAs Student Explorer program remember the dawn of the space age, when spacecraft could be built and launched swiftly and cheaply with direct student involvement, he said. We wanted to capture some of that magic, and we think we have. The three-foot diameter, 250-pound spacecraft was launched on a 55-foot-long Pegasus expendable-launch vehicle built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. The Pegasus was carried to an altitude of 40,000 feet by a jet aircraft and dropped into a five-second free fall. It then ignited horizontally and began ascending, placing SNOE in a circular orbit about 340 miles above Earth within 10 minutes. LASP satellite operations manager Randy Davis, also in charge of controlling two British technology satellites from the CU operations facility, was relieved when the science data began rolling in. It was a real treat for me to see the students enjoying themselves so much over the course of this project, he says. And space missions are surely a lot more fun when they work.
The mission operations phase, expected to continue for at least one year, will be supported in part by a special excellence award from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we can continue the mission for a longer period, providing more students with flight operations and data analysis experience, said spacecraft manager and LASP researcher Jim Westfall.
It was an amazing experience to actually work on a satellite, says aerospace engineering graduate student Aimee Merkel, the project leader on the UV spectrograph who began on the SNOE project as an undergraduate. I think we all have a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
John F. Kennedy Space Center
February 26, 1998
"It was a quiet and uneventful countdown," said NASA Launch Manager Ray Lugo. "The launch was perfect."
The first data from the spacecraft was received at 12:30 a.m. PST by the Poker Flats, AK, tracking station and relayed to the NASA telemetry facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.
"After the first orbit, the data from the spacecraft was exactly what we were hoping to see," said Dr. Charles Barth, SNOE Principal Investigator from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
SNOE is an Earth-orbiting satellite designed and built by a team of Boulder students, faculty and engineers who were selected to develop the mission by the Universities Space Research Association with funding from NASA. SNOE carries an ultraviolet spectrometer and two photometers to measure the effects of the sun's x-ray radiation and magnetic field on nitric oxide production. This is believed to affect the variability in the Earth's upper atmosphere.
Kennedy Space Center, FL
Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA
February 24, 1998
SNOE is an Earth-orbiting satellite designed and built by a team of University of Colorado at Boulder students, faculty and engineers who were selected to develop the mission by the Universities Space Research Association with funding from NASA. SNOE carries an ultraviolet spectrometer and two photometers to measure the effects of the sun's x-ray radiation and magnetic field on nitric oxide production. This is believed to effect the variability in the Earth's upper atmosphere.
At launch time, an L-1011 aircraft will carry the Pegasus XL rocket to an altitude of about 39,000 feet and release it over the Pacific Ocean. Pegasus will deliver SNOE to a planned circular orbit at an altitude of 580 kilometers and at an inclination of 97.75 degrees.
Launch has been postponed until late February. The Pegasus will be demated from the L1011 and returned to the east bay at Building 1555. The weather outlook is still poor.
Feb. 4, 1998
Vandenberg AFB re-opened and they are cleaning up the mess. The launch vehicle and payloads survived the storm and are in good shape.
Feb. 3, 1998
SNOE/BATSAT launch was scrubbed for 2/4/98 due to the weather situation. Vandenberg AFB was closed due to severe storms and flooding.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
John F. Kennedy Space Center
February 4, 1998
SNOE will be launched into orbit by a Pegasus XL rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, VA. A Lockheed L-1011 aircraft will carry the Pegasus to an altitude of 39,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean prior to its release.
Payload test team managers earlier today reported that the Pegasus fairing, despite the severe weather, sustained no moisture intrusion and the SNOE payload was in good health.
On Thursday, Feb. 5, the aircraft is scheduled to depart from VAFB at about 10 p.m. PST, with the drop planned for about 11:04 p.m. PST.
Weather for tomorrow's launch attempt is not expected to be favorable, but should improve by Friday.
NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
February 3, 1998
"This new class of missions allows universities and graduate students to plan, build and fly science satellites for low Earth orbit applications," said Dr. Wesley T. Huntress, Jr., NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "As NASA looks for more innovative ways to provide lower-cost access to space for scientists, we're also committed to providing first-rate opportunities for the next generation of scientists, now in graduate school, to get involved in flying their investigations in space. The three missions under this program are a precursor to our University Explorer program of student-built missions, the first of which will be selected later this year."
The Student Nitric Oxide Explorer spacecraft was designed, built, and will be operated by the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. SNOE is the first of three student satellite projects selected to be built under the Student Explorer Demonstration Initiative (STEDI) program.
The spacecraft will be launched into orbit by a Pegasus XL rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, VA. A Lockheed L-1011 aircraft will carry the Pegasus to an altitude of 39,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean prior to its release. The Pegasus XL then will free-fall in a horizontal position for five seconds before igniting its first stage rocket motor. The aircraft is scheduled to depart from Vandenberg at 1 a.m. EST, with the drop planned for approximately 2:04 a.m. EST.
The 254-pound SNOE spacecraft will carry three instruments: an ultraviolet spectrometer to measure nitric oxide altitude profiles; a five-channel solar soft X-ray photometer; and a two-channel auroral photometer that will measure auroral emissions beneath the spacecraft.
Funded by NASA and managed by the Universities Space Research Association's (USRA) Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, TX, STEDI is a pilot program designed to assess the effectiveness of small, low-cost space flight missions. The SNOE project was selected in response to an Announcement of Opportunity issued by USRA. Total cost of the mission is $12 million, including launch costs.
"The SNOE team has done a marvelous piece of work in reaching this milestone on the road to their scientific payoff in orbit," said Dr. Paul Coleman, president of the USRA. "We at USRA could not be more grateful to NASA for the opportunity to demonstrate that teams like Professor Barth's (the University of Colorado principal investigator) can design, fabricate, and assemble a sophisticated scientific satellite on schedule and on budget, while providing outstanding educational opportunities for young engineers and scientists."
Under the Cooperative Agreement signed in 1994, which established the STEDI program, NASA is responsible for selecting and procuring the launch vehicle, tracking and data acquisition activities, technical assistance in support of the selection process as needed, and approval of the final selection. The Universities Space Research Association is responsible for general oversight of the program, evaluation of space flight proposals, conducting critical design and mission readiness reviews, and final program review reports to NASA upon conclusion of the missions.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, manages the agency's responsibilities under the STEDI program for the Office of Space Science.
Information pertaining to SNOE is available on the Internet.
Information from USRA on the STEDI program is available at the Internet under "programs".