MOREHEAD, Ky. — A new exhibit highlighting Morehead State’s space system engineering program is now on display at the Aviation Museum of Kentucky in Lexington.
The exhibit features a model of the Lunar IceCube satellite which was designed, built and tested by teams of students at MSU. The satellite will launch as part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (Next STEP). The satellite will collect data about the presence of water, ice or other resources on the moon.
Dr. Dirk Grupe, MSU assistant professor of astrophysics and space systems engineering, gave a lecture about the mission at the display’s unveiling on Saturday, July 13.
“The goal of Lunar IceCube is to understand the physics of the volatiles like water there,” Grupe said. “Lunar IceCube will be in an orbit around the moon for about three months and will study the volatiles as a function of time of (moon) day, location and soil composition.” He added the mission is a valuable way to help students enhance marketable skills.
“To be successful in our program, students need good math skills and excellent time management skills. Space missions depend on that students keep things on schedule and follow deadlines which can be tough,” he said.
Lunar IceCube is one of 13 CubeSats, tiny satellites no larger than a loaf of bread, that will launch in October 2020 on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the largest, most powerful rocket ever built. Along with the CubeSats, the mission will carry the Orion capsule, which will eventually take humans back to the moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
The satellites will travel onboard the SLS for approximately one third of the distance to the moon, after which they will use the gravitational pull of the earth and the moon and internal propulsion systems to complete their journey.
Grupe said if Lunar IceCube can find water on the moon, it would allow for the production of rocket fuel there, which could help with future space exploration.
“We can use the moon as a gas station so to speak,” he said. “The moon will be a stepping stool to get to Mars eventually.”
Once Lunar IceCube reaches its destination and begins orbiting the moon, Grupe said students will play an active role in deciphering the data it sends back to earth.
“Our students will be downloading the data and sending commands for all the 13 Cubesat missions that will go on the SLS in 2020,” Grupe said. “We are currently in the process of becoming a part of NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN). NASA uses this network for all interplanetary missions, so like New Horizon that went to Pluto in 2015 and even the Voyager missions from the 1970s. We have a 21-meter space tracking antenna here at MSU, which easily can reach the moon to transfer commands and receive the data from the missions. We have a lot of experience being the ground stations for several missions. We have a number of students that get trained in becoming a ground station operator.”
For more information about the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, visit www.aviationky.org.
To learn more about space systems engineering program at MSU, https://www.moreheadstate.edu/study/spacesystemsengineering.
Learn more about MSU’s Space Science Center at www.moreheadstate.edu/ssc.