By Tessa D'Souza | June 17, 2020
What began in 2001 as an idea to give remotely-located missionaries around the world access to email and information through satellite technology has become a chance for Taylor’s Computer Science & Engineering Department to contribute to science and technological advancements as undergraduate students. In early 2021, a group of eight students, mostly in their first and second year, will be launching the university’s sixth satellite from a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket on its way to the International Space Station. This satellite will be the first to use the low-power Parallax CPU in space and will provide environmental data from the Low Earth Orbit region, which is an important area of space with limited data related to space weather.
Matt Orvis (‘13), the NearSpace Launch engineer who supports the ThinSat project, says that he enjoys working with Taylor students because “they don’t stop at 95%. They deliver flight hardware [and software] from start to finish.” During his time as an engineering student, he worked on a similar satellite project, which he cited as the single biggest impact on his ability to contribute to the workforce. As an alumnus and partner of Taylor University, he’s experienced firsthand the many ways in which Taylor CSE students take initiative and solve problems.
In addition to contributing to advances in science and technology, the satellite is a way for students to apply what they’re learning in classes to a real project. For Jeff Jewett (‘23), the lead software engineer on the project, it was a change to better understand the concepts of systems-level programming he was learning in ‘Introduction to Computer Systems’, and his work paved the way for his summer job with NearSpace Launch. Another freshman, Livia Rose, had very little computer science experience prior to coming to Taylor, but said that “the CSE department has already prepared me to solve problems and face so many challenges, that even in a pandemic I felt confident managing the satellite project.”
The current satellite project—a collaboration between the Computer Science & Engineering and Physics & Engineering departments—gives students a unique opportunity to apply their skills in the context of an interdisciplinary team. Rose White (‘22), who is doing an internship at RT-Logic, a company specializing in satellite communications, said, “The satellite project is proof that the CSE department is preparing us for hands-on real-world experience and internships.” Working in a group of students with different majors and levels of experience on a highly technical project provides our students with a unique opportunity to develop the collaboration and problem-solving skills needed to contribute to the workforce
The ThinSat satellite will spend about one week in the ionosphere as a part of a 30-satellite constellation built by NearSpace Launch and sponsored by Virginia Space.