Just DANDE: Middle Park grads have hand in building satellite
February 5, 2009
Two 2005 Middle Park High School graduates studying at the University of Colorado will someday witness a satellite they helped develop launch into space.
At the end of January, Colin Miller and Andrew Tomchek of CU-Boulder’s aerospace and mechanical engineering departments were part of a student team that won first place in a national competition for nanosatellite design.
CU-Boulder was one of 11 schools participating in the University Nanosatellite Program’s Flight Competition Review in Albuquerque, N.M.
The competition was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
The students’ winning satellite, called the Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer, or DANDE, is 18-inches in diameter and weighs 110 pounds. The spherical satellite is designed to measure variations in the upper atmosphere that create drag on orbiting satellites, such as national weather stations. With such drag, space craft lose altitude and can have shorter life spans.
The DANDE essentially tries a new approach to data collection, including oxygen or nitrogen detection as well as wind direction and velocity.
The perfectly round craft was designed and built over the last two years by an interdisciplinary team of 40 aerospace, mechanical, and electrical engineers.
Miller and Tomchek worked on the mechanical aspects and structure of the craft, leading a group of five other students.
“It was a good experience, it was a lot of fun,” said Tomchek. “It gave us a professional world experience in a university setting, and gave us a chance to meet industry members and make contacts.”
The Colorado team had support from the aerospace industry as well as the Governor’s Economic Development Office in completing its project. The nanosatellite competition’s second place award went to Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.; Michigan Tech in Houghton, Mich., took third.
The CU-Boulder students will deliver their final satellite to the Air Force by the end of this year; the Air Force could launch the satellite as early as 2011.
DANDE’s 100 days
The DANDE is expected to orbit the earth for 100 days then fall to an orbit from about 300 Kilometers to 100 Kilometers until it disintegrates in the atmosphere, Tomchek said.
“It’s a really unique thing to have a piece of hardware we built go into space,” he said. “The rocket launch we won is a piece of real estate that’s a really hard thing to come by.”
Tomchek, who works for the Laboratory for Atmospheric Space Physics, plans to remain as a student advisor on the DANDE satellite team while he works on his master’s degree in engineering. He is the son of Dorri and Dave Penny of Tabernash.
Miller, son of Sybil and Derek Miller of Tabernash, plans to continue on with DANDE as further testing and preparation is needed before the project is turned over to the Air Force’s research laboratory.
He will be working as DANDE’s Integration and Testing Lead in conjunction with his studies to complete his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering at CU.
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