Professor Umran S. Inan

Winter 1999-00

Date: Wednesday, March 8, 2000
Time: 4:15-5:30 PM; Refreshments at 4:00 PM

Stanford Student Satellite Program: From Small to Really Small

Prof. Robert Twiggs
Aero & Astro, Stanford University


Graduate and undergraduate students at Stanford have been working on student designed, built, tested and now launched into space microsatellites since 1994. On January 26 of this year at 7:03PM an expendable launch vehicle called Minotaur lofted Stanford's first student satellite into orbit from Vandenberg AFB, California. This microsatellite called OPAL and the Minotaur were unique innovations in what is hoped to be a start of a new era of space exploration.

The Minotaur is an example of turning weapons of war into plow shears by using two stages of the Minuteman II nuclear weapon ballistic missile and adding two stages of the Orbital Science Corporation's Pegasus launch vehicle to make a low-cost orbital launcher. OPAL is an example of student innovation in microsatellite design, using low-cost commercial parts. The total cash paid out cost for the components to build OPAL is less than $75,000. With the long hours of student efforts and much donated support for parts and services by the aerospace industry the total cash and in-kind value of OPAL is more than $1,000,000.

OPAL will be launching six small satellites called picosats, which is believed to be a space first. With the launch of these picosats, a new era in space experimentation will begin by allowing a broad spectrum of students, individuals and aerospace companies to do space experimentation at a low cost. These picosats were developed by undergraduate students from Santa Clara University, a group of ham radio enthusiasts from Washington DC and a DARPA sponsored project with The Aerospace Corporation.

Efforts are now underway to develop the next generation of picosats called CubeSat, a 4'' cube, that can be launched into space from the last stage of an expendable launch vehicle or another satellite like OPAL. CubeSat, being a low-cost picosat, will allow a wide variety of experimenters from mentor sponsored projects for grade school children to university experimenters to major government programs to get into space at estimated costs/picosat and launch costs of less than $25,000. Maybe CubeSat is the "Apple Computer" of the next space generation experimenters.

For details on OPAL, see the website: