Photo by Brinley Martell

On April 13, the WiSe-net Lab gave a presentation on Maine’s first small satellite (MESAT1) at the Versant Power Astronomy Center at the University of Maine. The student team behind this launch includes Joseph Patton, a Ph.D student and the project manager/power system, Travis Russell, a master’s student and the radio engineer and Steele Muchmore-Allen, a 4+1 graduate student and the flight engineer. These students are all part of the electrical and computer engineering department at the University of Maine and have been working on this project for the last two years.

 

The WiSe-Net lab was established in 2005 when professor and research director Dr. Ali Abedi came to UMaine. In 2008, the Lunar Habitat project was funded. 

 

“This inflatable lunar habitat was given to us by NASA to perform wireless leak detection and wireless sensing research in our lab,” Patton said. These inflate and go on the moon. Our research was related to doing the wireless sensing of different positions on the lunar habitat so that the robot could unfurl the habitat remotely on the moon so the astronauts could go on the moon and the habitat would be ready for them.”

 

This project is the culmination of a decade of research and funding. The first wireless leak detection was tested at NASA Johnson Space Center. In 2010, the WiSe-Net lab received a grant to build a new lab, which was further funded in 2013 to create the wireless leak detection research project. This led to the development of a wireless leak detection system that was tested for the International Space Station in 2017. In 2019, the MESTAT1 project got funded and will now be launching it in 2022. 

 

Maine’s first small satellite MESAT1 is scheduled to launch on the Fireflyblack rocket this June, which will also be carrying three payloads created by students in Falmouth High school, Fryeburg Academy and Saco Middle School. UMaine and the University of Southern Maine engineering groups are working together to build the satellite.

 

“Maybe in 10 to 20 years from now, people will think of space and think of Maine,” Patton said.

 

According to NASA’s website, they selected 18 small research satellites from eleven states to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets launching in 2021, 2022 and 2023. These CubeSats, or nanosatellites, were proposed by educational institutions, nonprofit organizations and NASA centers after the call for proposals. 

 

“CSLI (CubeSat Launch Initiative) is an amazing opportunity that provides tremendous value to NASA and the universities and organizations that design and develop CubeSat missions. It’s the perfect win-win,” said Sam Fonder, program executive of the Launch Services Program. “Developers get a chance to build and test small spacecraft for research in space. NASA can use this research to assist in accomplishing its mission objectives.”

 

UMaine will be launching alongside other CubeSat Selections for this 11th round, with universities such as Dartmouth, University of California, Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge also providing materials to be launched. Each of these missions will be helping future research on their own educational missions. 

 

The MESAT1 will provide feedback for three studies. The first is the ALBEDO payload, which will look into the effects of albedo on temperature around rural and urban areas. Albedo is the fraction of solar radiation that is reflected back into space. The next study is the IMAGER payload, which will investigate a new low-cost remote sensing tool for coastal estuaries. The last is the HAB payload, which is focusing on harmful algal blooms and whether they increase atmospheric temperature and water vapor levels in the atmosphere.