MSU students locate missing satellite


Staff Report



MOREHEAD – Morehead State University Space Science Center students Cody Robinson and Maria LeMaster teamed up to discover a lost satellite.

Robinson is the son of Doug and Michelle Robinson of Georgetown while LeMaster is the daughter of David and Renee LeMaster of Paintsville.

STMSat-1 is a satellite that was built by grade school children from St. Thomas More elementary school in Virginia. This satellite is a 1U Cubesat with a camera as its payload. The camera transmits a Slow Scan TV signal or SSTV with a frequency of 437.8MHz. STMSat-1 started out as just one school’s project, but later went “viral” by attracting a massive following that ended up all over social media, CBS This Morning and was eventually blessed by the Pope himself. As many as 10,000 grade school children tuned in to hear the satellite after its release from the International Space Station on May 16, however nobody was able to hear the satellite as it orbited.

The project developers had partnered with NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center and they began to consider options to look for the lost satellite. In troubleshooting the problem it was suggested the frequency had shifted due to the temperature difference in space. This became a problem for the grade school students because their antennas would be unable to locate the signal as they look at a very narrow band. The NASA team then suggested that Morehead State University might be able to help and contacted MSU through the NASA Near Earth Network.

MSU’s Space Science Center assembled a team of one staff member, Bob Kroll, space systems engineer, and two students to look for the lost spacecraft. Robinson and LeMaster teamed to use the 21 meter radio antenna to search for the missing spacecraft.

On May 2 around 11:03 p.m., Robinson and LeMaster used Keplerian Element, data from NASA’s database to determine pointing angles for the 21-meter antenna. A Keplerian Element- or Two Line Element, is a data format for orbiting elements at a given point of time. During the May 24 pass, a faint signal was received and analyzed by the team. It was then sent to the project manager at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. The lost satellite was found. NASA was correct, its signal had in fact shifted down to about 437.1MHz. Now that the signal has been found, thousands of school children are now able to hear and receive pictures from the satellite.

According to Space Science Center Director Dr. Ben Malphrus, “this is the second lost satellite our students have found this summer.”

The first was an Italian satellite called E-ST@R-II that was launched by the University of Parma. A mutual colleague at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory requested that we search for the spacecraft. On May 4, Sarah Wilczeski, a junior in Space Science detected a signal from E-ST@R-II that the Italian team was able to decode, providing valuable telemetry to assess the issues with the spacecraft.

“The significant infrastructure including the 21 m Space Tracking Antenna combined with sharp and persistent students and dedicated staff has led to Morehead State University becoming an important ground support system this summer for small satellite space operations,” said Kroll. “And these activities provide invaluable hands-on experience for our students.”

More on STMSat-1 can be found at www.STMSat-1.org.

Additional information is available by contacting Dr. Malphrus at 606-783-2381, email b.malphrus@moreheadstate.edu or visit www.moreheadstate.edu/ssc/.

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Staff Report

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