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NSWC Crane Pathways intern develops satellite to launch on SpaceX rocket for NASA research

By NSWC Crane Corporate Communications | Dec. 4, 2018

CRANE, Ind. – A Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) Pathways intern, as part of a team of students at the University of Southern Indiana (USI), designed and built a satellite to launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5 as part of an operational cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

The satellite will collect data for NASA research until the end of its life-cycle set for January 2020.

A group of USI students have worked on this multi-year, undergraduate Nano Ionospheric Temperature Explorer (UNITE) CubeSat (or nanosatellite) project. A few of the students, including NSWC Crane intern Ryan Loehrlein, have been on the NASA-funded project at USI since its inception over two years ago.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Loehrlien. “It’s rare for a student be part of an academic engineering project from the early planning stages to implementation. I’ve been able to gain a unique perspective throughout the research, design, construction, and testing process and I look forward to data collection after launch. Working with a group of smart and talented students has shown me anything can be done with teamwork.”

Loehrlien is currently studying Mechanical Engineering and Finance at USI. He was recently awarded an Association of Old Crows Educational Foundation scholarship to study STEM. He says his internship experience at NSWC Crane has given him the expertise to succeed in developing the UNITE CubeSat.

“This is the first satellite built by a public institution in Indiana,” says Loehrlien. “My time at Crane provided me with valuable skills I applied to the UNITE CubeSat project such as time management, research and development strategies, and the development of cohesive software simulations. This is a truly exciting learning opportunity.”

UNITE will deploy from ISS one to three months after launching from the SpaceX Falcon 9. It is during this time that UNITE will orbit the Earth for a year collecting data, weather measurements, temperatures, and orbital decay of the spacecraft. The main mission of the satellite is to collect data at the end of its life-cycle in the ionosphere, or during the final hours the satellite re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere just prior to disintegration.

Each step of the design, construction, and testing process has included official reviews with NASA to ensure the UNITE CubeSat is prepared for launch and rigors of space. Loehrlien says he expects this experience to be applicable as he transitions to his career after graduation.

“Throughout the UNITE CubeSat project I have enhanced my presentation of technical details, developed a more thorough understanding of systems engineering, and how to work on a team of engineers. I know these skills will be invaluable to my future career.”

NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today's Warfighter.