Space exploration research ongoing at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
RAPID CITY, S.D. — Almost fifty years since man landed on the moon, mankind hasn’t stopped developing new technology to send to space. The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City has been part of the space mission for decades.
“One of our alumni from the 50’s, Lee Solid, he entered into the Space Program around the beginning of that. He developed the rocket engines for the various rockets that Titan, Saturn V, the Space Shuttle,” said Dr. Josh Ash, associate professor of mechanical engineering.
Now, students are working with NASA to revolutionize what we know as satellites.
The first U.S. satellite in space was Explorer 1 in 1958, measuring over six feet long and weighing in over 30 pounds. Today’s research is shifting to the cubesat, four inch cube that can fit in the palm of your hand and weighs under three pounds.
At SDSM&T, a small group of engineering students are working to take the cubesat to a new level through NASA’s cubesate launch initiative.
“We need to be able to use a camera to figure out where a cubesat is relative to another cubesat,” said Skye Rutan-Bedard, undergraduate researcher.
Rutan-Bedard works with one other undergraduate researcher and a graduate student, under the advisement of Dr. Hadi Fekrmandi, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
“With a low-cost camera vision based estimation, which uses augmented reality tags and certain algorithm to identify depths, to identify distance,” said Fekrmandi.
It’s like a QR code.
“It’s just a camera, looking at it, it identifies the corners, identifies that it is a valid tag,” said Rutan-Bedard.
The goal is to communicate between multiple cubesats, getting them close together in space.
“By introducing better technology for getting these cubesats to localize, when they’re close to each other they can produce densely packed constellations and also means we can experiment with docking and getting individual cubesats to dock in orbit,” said Rutan-Bedard.
The cubes themselves, collecting scientific research in numerous fields.
A launch could be years away and NASA continues to work closely with students to keep development on track.
While the development continues, so does South Dakota’s contribution to space exploration.
“Being a part of it, even if it’s a small part of contributing to our push out to space and making it easier and cheaper, I’m happy to be a part of that,” said Rutan-Bedard.
The project falls under the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, funded by NASA, which is headquartered at the SDSM&T. The program aims to further activities in earth and space science.