Puerto Rican satellite placed in orbit
By John McPhaul
A Puerto Rican satellite developed and built by students from the Engineering School at Inter-American University of Puerto Rico’s Bayamón campus along with their professor, Dr. Amilcar Rincón Charris, was placed in orbit Tuesday morning by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from the International Space Station (ISS).
The historic moment, in which Puerto Rico joined the few countries that have developed this type of device and managed to place it in space, was seen live on the internet. The transmission originating from the ISS began at about 6:30 a.m.
Using an aerospace robot, the astronaut placed the Puerto Rico CubeSat NanoRocks-2 (PR-CuNaR2) in orbit 51.6, which was chosen so that the island-made satellite passes over Puerto Rico twice daily for up to a maximum of 10 minutes.
Inside, the satellite has stainless steel and silicon microparticles that emulate asteroids. The microparticles will be colliding while the satellite orbits. The movements and collisions of the microparticles will be recorded as part of a scientific investigation that seeks to study the formation of planets, young stars and asteroids. That part of the research is being carried out in collaboration with the Florida Space Institute and the Department of Physics at the University of Central Florida (UCF).
On Aug. 29, at 3:14 a.m., PR-CuNaR2 was launched in the Dragon Capsule of the Falcón 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida as part of Mission 23 of the SpaceX company. The next day, the capsule made its docking at 10:40 am on the ISS. Until Tuesday morning, PR-CuNaR2 had remained on the ISS.
PR-CuNaR2 weighs 5.6 pounds and measures four inches wide by four inches long and 12 inches tall. It began development three years ago as part of NASA’s ElaNa 37 project. About 25 students from various engineering programs at Inter-American University in Bayamón participated in its development.
However, the first prototype of this microsatellite was built in 2013. From the creation of the first prototype to the completion of its construction and development, some 65 students, women and men, have been part of the project. The satellite is constructed of aluminum, photovoltaic cells, batteries and other materials that have been approved for use in space.
The satellite is ready to orbit for two years, but it could stay in space longer. By integrating photovoltaic cells, the satellite charges its batteries, which are what provide it with the energy to function. Since PR-CuNaR2 has no propellants, it will eventually be drawn into the atmosphere and disintegrate without creating space debris.
Some of the entities that have collaborated in the effort to develop the project are the NASA Puerto Rico Space Grant Consortium, UCF, the University of Michigan, the Florida Space Institute, Aerospace Corp. and island companies Engiworks and Precision Experts.