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the final ground tournament will win a spot on the Space Launch System’s Exploration Mission 1 launch, currently scheduled for 2018. The SLS will deploy more than a dozen CubeSats, most sponsored by NASA or international space agencies, en route to delivering an unmanned Orion crew vehicle to lunar orbit. Two more CubeQuest ground tournaments remain, with the final competition scheduled for February 2017. The backpack-size MIT spacecraft, a 6U (10 cm x 20 cm x 30 cm) CubeSat called “KitCube,” (the MIT mascot is the beaver, and a “kit” is a baby beaver) features a laser communications payload developed in the Space Telecommunications, Astronomy, and Radiation (STAR) Lab at MIT, and novel green monopropellant propulsion technology. KitCube will compete for the lunar derby prize (successfully entering lunar orbit) as well as the best burst data rate prize. The laser communications payload is expected to achieve a data rate of better than 1.5 Mbps over a 30-minute interval from lunar orbit. Green monopropellant is a less-toxic fuel than commonly-used hydrazine with a relatively high specific impulse. “The KitCube project not only allows students to apply what they learn in the classroom to an actual CubeSat, but also to solve problems that have not truly been solved in this domain,” said AeroAstro graduate student Alison Gibson. “With the intention of demonstrating a novel technology (laser communications) in a lunar orbit obtained using chemical propulsion, KitCube’s goals are very ambitious for such a constrained satellite platform.” KitCube’s student team is composed of a mix of MIT undergraduate and graduate students, with more than 45 active team members from AeroAstro, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Mechanical Engineering. Since GT-1, KitCube has also teamed up with Project Selene, a team of high school students from, La Cañada Flintridge, Calif. “KitCube has allowed us to organize around the common goal of bettering our universe through the application of STEM education, which is imperative in the 21st century,” said high school student Sonya Kalara. The MIT student team began working on the project in the spring semester of 2015 as part of a joint undergraduate/ graduate course, and, after only a semester of work, placed second place in GT-1. Since then, students have continued working on the project in the classroom and regularly participate in site visits, teleconferences with industry sponsors, and rigorous safety reviews with NASA personnel. Graduate student David Sternberg said, “As the teaching assistant for the class that created the


Student Projects: tiny rocket drones, hyper-speed transport, a composite rocket, and a lunar orbit competitor


MIT AeroAstro annual magazine 2015-2016Aeroastro 2015 16  

Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.

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