Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) students will make history this week when NASA launches TJ3Sat into space. The satellite, which is pronounced TJ-cube-sat, will be the first satellite built by high school students to be launched into orbit.
“It’s been a heck of an experience,” said Teacher Adam Kemp, the faculty advisor behind the project.
More than 50 TJ students have spent the last eight years developing and building TJ3Sat, which is one of 20 satellites selected by NASA as part of its CubeSat Launch Initiative. NASA will launch TJ3Sat on Tuesday on an Orbital Minotaur I rocket at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, which is located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. There will be a livestream of the launch beginning at 6:30 p.m. and the launch window is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The TJ3Sat project got started when Kemp created a systems engineering course back in 2006 that centered on how to build a satellite.
“TJ is such a special place in that it affords the teachers the ability to be creative in what we teach,” said Kemp, who described the TJ3Sat project as “daunting” due to the level of knowledge and quality of the work needed to create the satellite.
Thanks to a $30,000 donation from Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, the school was able to purchase a cubesat kit to build the foundation of the satellite.
Kemp, who has taught at TJ for the last nine years, said all of the initial design and protyping for the satellite was completed at the school. The remainder of the work was finished at Orbital, where students have spent the last five summers working on TJ3Sat.
Construction of the satellite has served a senior project for most of the past and present students involved, including 17-year-old Rohan Punnoose. Punnoose is the lead senior on the project this year and spent the summer working on TJ3Sat at Orbital preparing it for launch.
“It’s really amazing. It seems you’re in a different world [at Oribital]. It’s very inspiring,” said Punnoose.
Watch Punnoose discuss TJ3Sat in the video above.
The purpose of the satellite is two-fold, according to Punnoose: the first of which is to serve as an educational resource for students and communities across the world, and to foster interest in aerospace technologies and systems.
TJ3Sat has a phonetic voice synthesizer that converts text messages to voice signals that will be broadcast over radio frequencies.
“Anyone around the world can tune in to the frequency and listen to the text they sent out [to be transmitted through the website],” said Punnose.
To ensure TJ3Sat is ready for launch, Punnoose said several environmental tests were recently completed and the satellite was shaken vigorously make sure it could survive being launched into space.
All data from TJ3Sat, including live telemetry such as voltages, currents, temperatures, and other system status information, will be publicly available online while the satellite is in orbit for an estimated three months.
The designs of the original hardware and software for the satellite will also be available on the website for other K-12 institutions to refer to and use as a resource to develop their own hardware.
Kemp said the satellite has had a few launch delays, but his hope is that the weather cooperates on Tuesday in order for the launch to happen.
Once the satellite’s in space, Kemp said he’s not sure what project the students will work on next.
“We’ll see where it takes us,” said Kemp.
Because of his work with TJ3Sat, Punnoose said he plans to pursue aerospace engineering in college.
For more information on TJ3Sat, visit the satellite's website.