LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) — Last month, a team of Utah State University students sent a small satellite up to the International Space Station on a SpaceX rocket. Today, that satellite successfully entered orbit and in doing so, launched the team into history.
A digital pinging sound could be heard playing from students’ phones and laptops on Wednesday. When listening closely, one could recognize the tune. It was USU’s fight song. The digital pinging was a recording made around 5:00 a.m. The sound was picked up at a radio station in Argentina, but it originated in space. The source? A small satellite called a CubeSat.
A team of undergraduate students woke up hours before the sun rose on Wednesday morning. Some told ABC4 it was hard for them to go to sleep at a decent time the night before. The lack of sleep was the result of a once-in-a-lifetime event. The students who form the USU Get Away Special Team were preparing to see their satellite be launched into space after spending a month on the ISS.
When it launched a packed room burst into applause. However, the big test was still to come. Would the satellite be able to communicate with its creators?
After half an hour, a radio station in Japan picked up a signal from the satellite. The students said at that moment, they knew the satellite was working. Fifteen more minutes passed, and the satellite was now over Argentina. Finally, a series of morse code beeps were picked up loud and clear followed by the USU fight song.
“For me, hearing that meant that everything that I had done; the hours and hours and days of testing we have put into it and making sure it was going to work when it was in space, and all of that worked,” Jack Danos explained. “It wasn’t just for nothing.”
Danos is the operations manager for the program which is also known as GASPACS. He is a senior at USU and joined the team as a freshman. Like many undergraduate students on the team before him, he hoped the satellite would be completed and shot up to space by the time he graduated.
He said with the satellite’s successful launch, it makes it the first-ever satellite built and designed entirely by undergraduate students to enter orbit. There is also something about this small satellite even more impressive. Danos added: “From what I’m told, over half of all CubeSats ever launched never get heard from. They don’t get a single signal back for one reason or another.”
The satellite (which is a small cube measuring about four inches in all directions) now orbits less than 300 miles above the planet. It is the product of dozens of students who spent the last 10 years developing the piece of technology.
“The majority of our team when they built this satellite were freshman, so straight out of high school, no idea how to build a satellite,” Danos stated. “And the fact that we could all come together, and through a lot of work, put something into space that now anybody around the world can listen to and hear the ‘Scotsman Tune,’ it’s again. I can’t describe it.”
The students are now monitoring the satellite as it orbits the planet. The next big step in communicating with the satellite will be getting a photo from it. This may happen this week. They are also testing inflatable technology that is on the satellite. If this technology is successful, it could potentially influence future spacecraft.