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NEW: Satellite Made By Brown U. Students to Launch on NASA Rocket

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


It is quite a feeling to know that something that you helped made with your own hands will soon be launched into space to orbit a rocket.

The Brown University students behind the EQUiSat project, a three-year enterprise by students to build a satellite that will help to track a NASA rocket, are still coming to grips with the NASA's announcement last week that EQUiSat will be one of 16 small satellites selected to fly on rockets from 2015 to 2018.

"We've all been in disbelief for the last few days," said Hannah Varner, a senior concentrating in engineering and one of the team's leaders.

When EQUiSat is launched along with its NASA rocket, the satellite will track the rocket so that earth-bound scientists and laymen alike can track its progress across the skies. The LED beacon on the satellite will flash every two minutes, and will be about as easy to spot from Providence as the North Star.

The Brown team will use EQUiSat's flight as an opportunity to reach out to students and the public at large. “Satellites have become so common but so few people know how important they are to everything we do,” said Varner. “They’re crucial to cell phones and TV and everything. So exposing a younger audience and a non-science audience to satellites was important for us.” In conjunction with the launch, the team plans to put together lessons for middle and high school students about satellites, orbital science, and other topics about outer space, and even an app to help track the satellite's location.

A New Kind of Satellite

Construction on the project is still underway. EQUiSat is what is known as a CubeSat, meaning that it will weigh just about two pounds. The initiative was begun by NASA to encourage students to find innovative new ways to build satellites for lower costs. While typical CubeSats often cost over $30,000, the Brown team is working with a budget of about $13,000. And they're hopeful that the design that they develop will soon lead to a CubeSat that can be built for $3,000 or less.

“CubeSats are a really great architecture because, compared to other kinds of satellites, you can build them really quickly and get a launch comparatively easily,” said Emily Gilbert, a physics concentrator and an EQUiSat team leader. “They’re launched as secondary payloads so you don’t need to commission your own rocket for hundreds of millions of dollars."

The EQUiSat project began in 2011. It grew out of an engineering design class taught by Rick Fleeter, adjunct professor in the Engineering department. In 2012, students turned the project into a club that now boasts about 30 student members. Fleeter, who founded a private satellite company before coming to Brown, still oversees the club, but is quick to point out that it is the students who do the lion's share. “They’re just going on their own energy," said Fleeter. "I kind of got them pointed in the right direction, but it’s not like I have to encourage them or say, ‘Gee, guys, we ought to have a meeting.’ They just go.”

In addition to Varner and Gilbert, the group's leadership now includes seniors Kelly Hering and Tyler Del Sesto, as well as junior Casey Meehan. Meehan will oversee the project as the seniors gather their cap and gowns and EQUiSat captures the imagination of a new generation of Brown students. “We have a really enthusiastic bunch coming up behind us,” Gilbert said. “We have a lot of faith in them.” 


Related Slideshow: New England Colleges With the Best Undergraduate Teaching

U.S. News & World Report released a survey conducted in 2013 of college administrators on the best schools for undergraduate teaching. Several New England made their lists for best National Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, and Regional Universities. See which schools made the lists in the slides below: 

Prev Next

National Universities

9. Brown University

Providence, RI 
Students: 6,435
2013-14 Tuition: $45,612
Admissions: 9.6% Acceptance Rate
Prev Next

National Universities

5. Yale University 

New Haven, CT
Students: 5,405
2013-14 Tuition: $44,000
Admissions: 7.0% Acceptance Rate
Prev Next

National Universities

1. Dartmouth College

Hanover, NH
Students: 4,193
2013-14 Tuition: $46,752
Admissions: 9.8% Acceptance Rate
Prev Next

Liberal Arts Colleges

18. Mount Holyoke College

South Hadley, MA 
Students: 2,322
2013-14 Tuition: $41,456
Admissions: 42.1% Acceptance Rate
Prev Next

Liberal Arts Colleges

9. Amherst College

Amherst, MA
Students: 1,817 
2013-14 Tuition: $46,574
Admissions: 13.0% Acceptance Rate
Prev Next

Liberal Arts Colleges

5. Williams College

Williamstown, MA
Students: 2,052
2013-14 Tuition: $46,600
Admissions: 17.0% Acceptance Rate
Prev Next

Regional Univ. - North

4. Fairfield University

Fairfield, CT
Students: 3,879
2013-14 Tuition: $42,920
Admissions: 71.2% Acceptance Rate
Prev Next

Regional Univ. - North

2. Providence College

Providence, RI
Students: 3,810
2013-14 Tuition: $42,206
Admissions: 61.0%

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