LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) — NASA is preparing to launch a joint-mission satellite next week. The United States and Brazil have been working together for the last five years to build a satellite to study space weather that is disrupting radio waves along the equator.
A group of Utah State University students built a crucial component of the satellite.
“We want it all to kind of fit together and work together in the end,” said Jason Powell, a graduate student at USU.
He and a fellow graduate student, Nicholas Wallace, have been working on the project for the last couple of years. They built a circuit board that is roughly the size of a floppy disc, and four other students who have now graduated also worked on the project.
“SPORT is a mission for space weather,” Swenson said. “We’re trying to understand a phenomenon that we call equatorial plasma bubbles.”
Dr. Swenson explained that these plasma bubbles are especially a problem in Brazil, hence the combined effort.
“These are bubbles that come up from the earth’s ionosphere and cause distortions on radio waves that pass through the ionosphere through these bubbles.”
He explained that this disrupts GPS, which not only helps drivers navigate but is also used in Brazil for farming, landing planes and other purposes. The students’ work may help figure out why this is happening and lead to a solution.
The USU students are not alone in this endeavor. The SPORT satellite is the product of an international collaboration.
“It’s been awesome to have that kind of joint approach with students from Brazil and be able to work with them and communicate,” Powell said. “Lots of virtual meetings.”
Students from across the U.S., Brazil and government agencies have all been working together to build specific components of the satellite that were then pieced together like a puzzle.
“It has required a number of agreements to be signed between the governments, and it’s really warmed up relationships between the United States and Brazil to do this scientific mission,” said Dr. Charles Swenson, a USU professor and the principal investigator for the SPORT mission.
The satellite will be launched into space next Monday, Nov. 21. It will travel to the International Space Station. In December, the satellite will be sent into space and orbit the earth above the equator. The USU students’ circuit board will be fitted inside the satellite, playing an important role in its overall function.
“I wasn’t expecting to do anything like this while I was at college,” Wallace said. “I’ll do some classwork and maybe some research with a professor but I didn’t realize it would be something that would actually have an impact in the world.”