Placing satellite technology into the hands of students is the heart of UTChattSat’s mission. Assistant Professor of Engineering, Dr. Daniel Loveless, along with graduate students Matt Joplin and Amee Patel, and alumnus Daniel Johnson, form the core team for the project. Over the summer this research team partnered with local start-up accelerator CO.LAB to bring UTChattSat’s mission to fruition.
“I wanted to use my research in space systems to reach a broader audience. I think that space science and engineering, in particular the small satellite system, allows for the creation of innovative science and engineering education programs at K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels,” says Loveless.
The team created an electronics development kit based on small satellite technology. Their DIY kit includes a 3D-printable small satellite model and electronics that meet small satellite standards.
While students, or anyone, could use this technology for a number of applications, graduate student Matt Joplin explains, students could easily use it for a high altitude balloon. With the technology, students would launch their own high altitude balloon and then receive real-time information on the ground about altitude, location, pressure, and temperature. Students could use that to study gravity, weather, or imaging, to name a few.
“The limit is the imagination. Which is why we’re giving it to people at such a young age,” Joplin adds.
Local schools including Baylor School, STEM School, and Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy are already making plans to implement the UTChattSat development kit in their curriculum and after school engineering programs. The technology’s reach will soon extend beyond the Chattanooga area to reach Metropolitan Nashville Schools as UTChattSat plans to partner with the Center for Scientific Outreach at Vanderbilt.
For now, the plans include using lower-cost, user-friendly satellite models that were created in collaboration with Dr. Louie Elliot , to teach communication, sensors, programming, and design for space systems. More specifically, one school will be developing a thermal control for managing temperatures in the satellite while another will use UTChattSat’s platform to develop their own environmental sensor network that will report back to the “satellite.”
UTChattSat was born out of a class led by Loveless this past spring. The class’s semester-long project to create a high altitude balloon was a success when students launched and retrieved their system in May. Read more about that story here.
Their work continued into the summer when the UTChattSat team joined CO.LAB’s GIGTANK 365 accelerator program where they had access to experts, technology, and an atmosphere fueled with innovation and collaboration.
“GIGTANK allowed us to take research at the graduate and undergraduate levels and develop a product useful for K-12 educational programs. The program also gave us the opportunity to develop the necessary relationships with local school systems and industrial partners to make this happen,” says Loveless.
Joplin adds, “The direction, involvement, and enthusiasm for innovation from the CO.LAB personnel – like Ashlee Owens and Mike Bradshaw to name a couple – was palpable and contagious. I would do it again if I got the opportunity in an instant.”
The technology created by UTChattSat has potential beyond its use in the classroom as well. It will soon be used for real-time monitoring of building expenditure on Campus; the system will track UTC power consumption over time to better understand and pinpoint the amount of watts consumed per person or per room at anytime of any day. The UTChattSat team partnered with Drs. Donald Reising and Mina Sartipi for this project.
“We are supplementing current building usage models with real-time data to try to improve the performance, cut energy use, and lower cost.” Loveless explains, “The core technology allows us to remotely control, and receive real-time feedback from any sensor connected to our platform. This has implications in smart-city development, for example.”
For the students involved in the research and creation of UTChattSat, this project has life extending into their futures as professionals as well.
“This project is the heart of (me and) my thesis work that extends to several applications of this project. Programming computers and embedding different types of subsystems are the most enthusiastic parts for me. It is totally a field I am more than passionate about and envision for my professional life,” says Amee Patel, Graduate Student.
Joplin describes his work with UTChattSat,
“As a researcher, I work to discover something that has never been realized before. As a member of the Chattanooga community, I want to improve the city I love so much. UTChattSat was targeted directly at the members who matter the most: children. This is my way to communicate the wonder of space technology to those children. That’s what really drew me to the project. It was a real application that mattered to the community at large.”
Want to know more? Follow UTChattSat on Twitter here.