Spaceflight Now STS-108

Astronauts deploy satellite to be tracked by students
Posted: December 16, 2001

The student-built Starshine-2 satellite was deployed from space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay at 10:02 a.m. EST today as the ship flew 240 miles over the South Pacific, southwest of Australia. The 86-pound craft resembles a disco ball with about 900 highly polished mirrors covering its surface.

Schoolchildren from around the world will attempt to view the spacecraft as it passes overhead for an experiment in satellite tracking, orbital mechanics and atmospheric drag.

"Starshine is really interesting," Endeavour astronaut Linda Godwin said in a pre-flight interview. "It's a small satellite, but it's made up of many mirrors that have been worked on literally by thousands of students who have polished these mirrors to a very perfect, smooth surface, and then they've been assembled on this satellite.

"The whole job of our crew is to activate the circuitry that blows some pyros and allows a spring to push this satellite out of a can that's out in the shuttle payload bay. And it stays in orbit for a period of time and because it's so reflective, and it also has a very slow spin on it so it kind of seems to shine as it rotates, the students on the ground can track it, they'll be able to see it. And they can make calculations on where it is and how high it is and how its orbit is changing, so it gives them a lot of experience in using numbers like that and mathematics to look at orbital decay.

"There's going to be a series of these over a solar cycle, so they even get to look at how that impacts orbital dynamics," Godwin said. "It's something that's participated in by so many students, and it really ties a lot of them into the space program, which is a neat thing."

About 25,000 students from 26 countries helped polish the hundreds of mirrors attached to the aluminum sphere that is Starshine-2. The mirrors were machined by Utah high school technology students and then shipped to students around the world to be polished. The mirrors were then coated with a cratch-resistant, anti-oxidizing layer of Silicon Dioxide at Hill Air Force Base and then installed by engineers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

The spacecraft contains a special cold gas spin system that will rotate the satellite five degrees per second to enhance the rate at which sunlight will flash from its mirrors.In addition, the satellite carries twenty laser retro-reflectors, distributed evenly across its surface, to permit tracking by the International Satellite Laser Ranging Network.

During the satellite's life in orbit, sunlight reflecting from the mirrors will be visible to the naked eye during morning and evening twilight hours.

Project officials say the satellite should remain in orbit for about eight months before reentering Earth's atmosphere to burn up.

Although called Starshine-2, this is actually the third to be launched. Starshine-1 was deployed from shuttle Discovery in May 1999. Starshine-3 was launched by a Lockheed Martin Athena rocket from Kodiak Island, Alaska a couple months ago.

Two more Starshine satellites are being developed for launch from the shuttle in the future.

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The student-built Starshine-2 satellite was deployed from space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay as the ship flew 240 miles over the South Pacific.
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This view of the Starshine-2 satellite deployment was recorded by a hand-held camcorder inside shuttle Endeavour's crew cabin.
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