Elementary Schoolers’ CubeSat Ready to Deploy from ISS


The 400 youngsters attending a suburban Washington, DC, parochial school are eagerly awaiting the day the CubeSat they constructed will be deployed from the International Space Station. The little STMSat-1 spacecraft — an educational project of pupils attending St Thomas More (STM) Cathedral School in Arlington, Virginia — is equipped with a slow-scan TV (SSTV) payload that will transmit on 70 centimeters (437.800 MHz). The school won a NASA competition for the launch. The satellite is the first to be designed and built by grade schoolers, who have been supported by NASA technical advisors. Transported to the ISS in December by an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft, the kit-built satellite had been scheduled for release in mid-February, but that event was postponed, apparently due to crew scheduling priorities. Now the 1U CubeSat’s release could happen as early as Monday, March 7.

“The STM Sat-1 mission is to perform Earth observation and engage grade-school students around the world as remote Mission Operation Centers,” the STMSat-1 website explains. The satellite project is part of the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education initiatives. St Thomas More includes students from pre-kindergarten through grade 8. School Principal Eleanor McCormack is the project manager.

NASA’s Technology Demonstration Office is the space agency’s sponsoring organization. The school has been working with Joseph Pellegrino at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. NASA provided the school with a mobile “clean room” to ensure that the construction phase met with strict guidelines and standards for launch and deployment from the ISS. NASA also provided the school with an antenna, so the school can receive the SSTV images and temperature readings the satellite sends back. The students already have tested their CubeSat by sending it aloft on a tethered balloon.

The SSTV camera onboard STMSat-1 will transmit a Martin-2 image every 30 seconds. It will not transmit a beacon signal, however. The youngsters are hoping it will send back images of Earth as seen from space. The transmitter runs 3 W, and there is no onboard data storage capability.

The little satellite also carries a medal blessed by Pope Francis, a capsule filled with personal items from St Thomas More’s annual auction winners, and a metal plate etched with the signatures of all STM students, faculty, and staff.

The project aims to engage other schools around the world as “Remote Mission Operation Centers” (RMOCs). So far, some 10,000 students are said to be following the project’s progress, and others are welcome to join and become equipped to monitor STMSat-1’s transmissions.

The school has been working with the Arlington Amateur Radio Club.

Once STMSat-1 is deployed from the ISS into a low-Earth orbit with other CubeSats, a timer will start for the programmed deployment of antennas, solar array, and the Earth-observation camera.

STMSat-1 has an estimated lifetime of at least 9 months.