Montana State University

MSU celebrates first birthday of student-built satellite

October 29, 2012 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

MSU's student-built satellite has now orbited the Earth more than 5,418 times since it was launched last year on Oct. 28. (Illustration courtesy of MSU's Space Science and Engineering Laboratory).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN - Montana State University's student-built satellite has now orbited the Earth for more than one year, wildly surpassing all design expectations, according to David Klumpar, director of MSU's Space Science and Engineering Laboratory.

"We are wishing a big happy birthday to MSU's grand little satellite," Klumpar said Oct. 29 in an email to SSEL students, staff and supporters.

The William A. Hiscock Radiation Belt Explorer (HRBE), formerly known as Explorer-1 [Prime] Unit 2, was launched into space at 3:48 a.m. Oct. 28, 2011, and began operating about three hours later. A year later, Klumpar said the satellite remains healthy and continues to gather scientific data on the ionizing radiation environment in near-Earth space, in a region known as the Van Allen Radiation Belts.

HRBE has circled the Earth more than 5,418 times so far, Klumpar said. It has traveled more than 141 million miles, at a speed of nearly 5 miles each second.

"This distance traveled is equivalent to the distance that 798,000 Cats fans, each driving their own car, would travel to get to Missoula for the 'Brawl of the Wild,'"Klumpar said. "It is almost like three quarters of the population of Montana getting into a separate car and driving from Bozeman to Missoula.

"The satellite has transmitted approximately 2.1 million beacons of telemetry data to Earth -- and outward into the cosmos," Klumpar continued. "Its first radio transmission, traveling at the speed of light, is now almost one-quarter of the distance to the nearest star."

MSU's satellite emits a "heartbeat" every 15 seconds, which allows ham radio operators around the world to detect the satellite and report its progress to MSU. The satellite circles the Earth every 90 minutes in an "eccentric" orbit, which means that the orbit is elliptical instead of circular. The distance above Earth is anywhere from 283 to 503 miles.

As MSU students continue to operate the satellite from Cobleigh Hall on the MSU campus, Klumpar said they are also immersed in developing hardware for several other satellites that will launch in the near future. The SSEL expects its hardware to fly on 12 satellites that will launch in 2013. Two of those satellites were built primarily within the SSEL. The other 10 contain significant elements that were designed, built and tested at MSU.

"I could go on, and on, and on, but I'll bring this note to a close with a final thank you to the hundreds of students who have been involved in SSEL these 12 years for your contributions to the program," Klumpar wrote in his email that drew congratulations from MSU administrators, faculty and alumni.

SSEL built its satellite for the NASA Montana Space Grant Consortium to replicate the scientific mission of the Explorer-1 mission that was launched on Jan. 31, 1958, and detected the existence of the Van Allen Radiation Belts, a band of energetic charged particles held in place by the Earth's magnetic field. After the MSU satellite was successfully launched and in orbit, MSU changed its name to honor the late William A. Hiscock, an MSU physics professor who headed the Montana Space Grant Consortium and the MSU physics department.

HRBE was launched by NASA for MSU under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between NASA and the university. It was one of the first university-built missions to be placed into orbit under NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.

For a related article, see "MSU satellite orbits the Earth after early morning launch."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or