Apr 7, 2017 | By Julia

We may soon see the first satellite built by students to orbit the moon. An ambitious team of undergraduates from Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) at University of California San Diego (UCSD) have officially set their sights on NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge. And in what should come as no surprise to some, 3D printing featured heavily in the construction of this underdog satellite.

The competition, which is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate Centennial Challenge Program, offers $5.5 million to the team that designs, builds, and delivers a flight-qualified small satellite capable of advanced operations near the moon and beyond. If successful, the UC San Diego satellite “Triteia” would be the first student-built satellite to orbit the moon.

Triteia Project Manager Faris Hamdi says his team decided to participate to advance the capabilities of miniaturized satellites, known as CubeSats.

“We entered the Cube Quest competition to help push the boundaries of what is possible in space,” said Hamdi. “The space industry is known for being slow and far away from being agile. However, with the advent of [CubeSats] we are able to design, build, test and fly new hardware in space faster than before.”

CubeSats and small satellites also have the potential to make space drastically cheaper because of their small size and quick development cycle, he added.

The stakes are certainly high. If Triteia secures a spot on the SLS rocket, this student-built satellite will be “pushing the limits of what can be done by a CubeSat...Triteia will be the first CubeSat to venture out of low-Earth orbit and the first CubeSat to have a chemical propulsion system,” Hamdi told press.

The competition itself includes three stages: a series of Ground Tournaments, the Deep Space Derby, and the Lunar Derby. The four Ground Tournaments are held every four to six months, as checkpoints where teams are judged and can potentially receive funding. Those who pass the Ground Tournaments have an opportunity to secure their spot on the first integrated flight between NASA’s Orion Spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

So far, the SEDS UCSD team has passed the first three Ground Tournaments with flying colours, placing within the top five competitors for the second and third round. Not far off is the Deep Space Derby, in which teams have to find innovative solutions to deep space communications using small spacecraft, and finally, the Lunar Derby, which focuses on propulsion for small spacecraft and near-Earth communications.

But before the SEDS UCSD team can set their sights too high, they must successfully pass the fourth Ground Tournament, which will measure flight readiness. This “integration stage” is the most crucial of the Ground Tournaments, as this is the moment for team members to purchase components, test and validate them, and integrate them into Triteia.

Callan, Triteia's 3D printed thruster

Here, Hamdi and his team elected to use 3D printing for Triteia’s thruster. “We chose to 3D print the thruster because of the flexibility and reduction of cost that is offered by additive manufacturing,” Hamdi stated.

“The ability to 3D print allows you to manufacture components that otherwise could not have been made by traditional manufacturing techniques. Our satellite is the only satellite in the competition to be built by a completely undergrad team; it is also the most affordable satellite in the competition. With our 3D printed thruster, we will be able to reach the moon in less than six days, faster than any of our competitors.”

To cover the costs of construction and purchasing the required parts, the SEDS UCSD team has started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

The fourth and final Ground Tournament will take place on April 6th. The first mission of the Space Launch System rocket, complete with the lucky winning satellite, will launch in late 2018.

 

 

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Eric Spidell wrote at 4/8/2017 12:41:45 AM:

Please tell me I am not the only one that thinks this guy looks like Wesley Crusher from Star Trek TNG.



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