SPACE HAUC, UMass Lowell’s first satellite, recently passed a critical test that cleared the way for its upcoming launch into earth orbit.

The satellite was designed and built by more than 100 students from the Kennedy College of Sciences and the Francis College of Engineering over the course of five years. It is based on the cube satellite (CubeSat) model used worldwide for low-Earth orbit space research. 

“The purpose of this student experiment is to demonstrate technology that hasn’t been done in such a small package,” said Physics Professor Supriya Chakrabarti, director of the Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology (LoCSST) and principal investigator for the satellite project. “The students will be sending large amounts of data from space to the ground using the CubeSat platform.”

SPACE HAUC (pronounced “Space Hawk”), which stands for Science Program Around Communications Engineering with High-Achieving Undergraduate Cadres, is just 12 in. in length and weighs about 9 lbs. It has four solar panels that will deploy in orbit to supply electricity to power the satellite’s electronics. 

In preparation for the flight, SPACE HAUC recently underwent vibration testing at the NTS lab facility in Boxborough, Massachusetts, to simulate the dynamic stresses that the satellite would experience during launch. 

“The test is an important milestone,” said Professor Chakrabarti. “I’m extremely proud of the work done by our students.”

After the test, the satellite was brought back to the LoCSST clean room facility near East Campus, where student researchers and representatives from Nanoracks, a Houston-based company contracted by NASA to package small research payloads for delivery to the International Space Station, gave it a thorough examination.

“SPACE HAUC passed with flying colors,” said Professor Chakrabarti. “The satellite was able to establish radio communication and deploy its solar panels on command. This was a momentous occasion.”

“The vibration test is the last hurdle before the satellite gets certified as flight ready,” said Susanna Finn, a LoCSST research scientist who, until this year, was the SPACE HAUC team’s advisor. She now works as a program scientist in the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “To see all the satellite’s components working is very reassuring and gives us the green light to launch,” Finn said.

In early July, the team packed and shipped SPACE HAUC to Nanoracks, which integrated it into one of the company's CubeSat deployers bound for the International Space Station. “The deployers were delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on July 16,” said Tristan Prejean, a Nanoracks satellite program manager. He and Cole Winkler, a Nanoracks mission manager, were on hand for the vibration testing to confirm the flight readiness of the satellite. “NASA will then transport the deployers from Houston to Cape Canaveral in Florida for the launch,” stated Prejean.

The SPACE HAUC mission aims to demonstrate, for the first time, the feasibility of a student-developed communication system at high data rates in the X-Band using a phased array of 16 patch antennas on the CubeSat. The antennas will operate at frequencies of 7.2 to 8.3 GHz from an altitude of about 250 miles.

“The antennas all have to work together like a marching band,” Professor Chakrabarti explained. “We can send data anywhere and electronically maneuver the satellite in space, a technique called beam steering.”

SPACE HAUC is expected to stay in orbit for a year or more before it gradually loses altitude and falls back to Earth. As it re-enters the atmosphere, aerodynamic stress and heating will cause the satellite to disintegrate and burn up harmlessly, high above the ground.

The project was funded with an initial $200,000 grant from NASA. Additional funding was provided by the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium and the Francis College of Engineering.

“Our goal is to train students to be the next generation of astronomers and space scientists and engineers through hands-on involvement in all phases of the mission, from instrument development to data analysis,” said Professor Chakrabarti.

Aside from LoCSST, other SPACE HAUC research collaborators include the university’s Submillimeter-Wave Technology Laboratory, the Raytheon-UMass Lowell Research Institute and the Printed Electronics Research Collaborative, as well as Analog Devices, Raytheon Technologies, 4C Test Systems, BAE Systems, Draper Laboratory and MIT Haystack Observatory. 

“Analog Devices has been a tremendous help by providing hardware support and technical advice,” said Sanjeev Mehta, who received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UML in 2018 and decided to stay on as the team’s program manager. 

SPACE HAUC will be part of the ELaNa (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites) 37 mission that includes CubeSats from the University of Illinois and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. Once ready, the ELaNa 37 CubeSats will be loaded into a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff is currently planned for August 29, weather permitting, from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39-A.

“Of course, everything is still subject to last-minute changes or delays,” noted Professor Chakrabarti.

The ELaNa 37 CubeSats are on the SpaceX flight manifest for CRS-23, which is a regular commercial resupply service mission to the International Space Station. SpaceX is under contract with NASA to deliver supplies and experiments for the astronauts using the company’s Cargo Dragon vehicle. Once in space, the three CubeSats will be stored until their release into low-Earth orbit from the space station. SPACE HAUC’s deployment is currently slated for October 11.