Project Starshine, a privately funded student space education experiment, is being coordinated by the Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium, headquartered at Utah State University in Logan, UT. The director of the Starshine project, R. Gilbert Moore, is an adjunct professor of physics at the university and a director at large of the space grant consortium. He retired to Monument, CO from a fifty-year career in the space field and proposed the Starshine project in January of 1997 to Winter Horton, then chairman of the board of the Hansen Planetarium in Salt Lake City and now a director of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He also presented the Starshine concept to the Hitchhiker Program Office at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Office of Education at NASA Headquarters and to Dan Goldin, Director of NASA, in the spring of 1997 and received their endorsement. In company with U.S. Senator Robert F. Bennett of Utah, Mr. Goldin came to Salt Lake City in August of 1997 and announced his approval of NASAs participation in the project to the extent of flying the satellite for free on the STS-96 mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery, as a service to the worlds educational community. He further stated that, if the first Starshine mission was deemed successful by himself and his director of education, Frank Owens, he would recommend that NASA fly a similar satellite each year, for free, throughout an eleven-year solar cycle.
The Space Dynamics Laboratory of Utah State University set to work to design the optical portion of the Starshine spacecraft in late 1997 and performed visibility studies to determine the required sizes and flatness characteristics of its reflecting surfaces. A mixture of high school and adult technology students in machine shop classes at the Bridgerland Applied Technology Center in Logan, UT then machined 1200 sets of aluminum mirror blanks in the spring of 1998, to be polished by elementary through high school students for placement on the exterior of the spacecraft. The Aerospace States Association, headquartered in Denver, CO, and Thiokol Propulsion, a division of Cordant Technologies of Brigham City, UT provided funding for aluminum for the mirrors and for a Starshine teacher workshop hosted by the Hansen Planetarium of Salt Lake City, UT in the fall of 1998.
Graduate students at
the Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium worked with
Internet Solutions in the spring of 1998 to develop a project data base and an Internet web site for informing teachers about the project and for accepting their applications to participate. The project director embarked on an extensive spring and summer lecture tour of schools in the western and southern United States, assisted by personnel from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Alabama Aerospace Teachers Association, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Starfire Optical Range. Teachers in those areas expressed strong encouragement for the project as a means of enhancing their efforts in space education.
Optics professionals at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico adapted their telescope metal mirror polishing procedures for student use on Starshine mirrors. The project director and his wife, Phyllis, ordered materials for 1100 mirror polishing kits in early 1998 and assembled and shipped those kits from their home to schools that requested them during the period from mid-March to mid-October, 1998. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center of Huntsville, AL and the Clark Foundation of Salt Lake City provided the majority of the funds required for the polishing materials. The Packager, Inc., of Ogden, UT manufactured and donated all required polishing kit shipping containers. Service Glass of Monument, CO provided 1100 glass backing plates for the polishing kits at no profit. Lightpath Technologies of Albuquerque, NM donated 1200 optical inspection flats that they cored from surplus glass plates. The Albuquerque Chapter of the Optical Society of America purchased Global Positioning System Receivers and distributed them to some of the New Mexico schools involved in the project. The Utah Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics performed a similar function for schools in Utah. The Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium provided some of the funds required for shipping the mirror kits to schools and for travel expenses associated with school lecture tours, workshops and coordination meetings with NASA. The U.S. Space Foundation and the U.S. Air Force Academy held a series of Starshine workshops in the summer of 1998.
The Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base in Utah wrote a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement in the spring of 1998 with the Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium to apply reflection enhancement and anti-oxidant and scratch resistant coatings to the surfaces of the student polished mirrors, as well as to provide whatever mirrors might be required to finish covering the surface of the spacecraft, in the event that not enough mirrors were received from the schools for the purpose. They have been coating mirrors all during the summer and fall of 1998 and are nearing the end of the task.
The Naval Research Laboratory of Washington, DC designed the structure of the Starshine spacecraft in the fall of 1998 and is presently obtaining final safety approval from NASAs Goddard and Johnson Centers to build the structure, assemble the mirrors on its surface and subject it to vibration testing in November and December of 1998, preparatory to delivering it to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD in January of 1999 for integration with the Hitchhiker retention and deployment mechanism.
The Goddard Hitchhiker office will transport the Starshine canister to the Kennedy Space Center and install in Discoverys starboard forward sill position of Bay 13 in March of 1999.
The United States Air Force Research Laboratories at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM are working with Analytical Graphics of Malvern, PA to develop software that can be used on a personal computer by students to compute the classical orbital elements of the Starshine satellite from angular position observations provided by the global volunteer student observer network during the six-month duration of the Starshine flight experiment. A series of passes of the Mir satellite will be tracked by the students in November and December of 1998 to test the software. During the spring of 1999, the students will track and compute the orbits of a series of ever-dimmer satellties, in preparation for the launch of the Starshine satellite in mid-1999 during the STS-96 mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
The Hansen Planetarium and the U.S. Air Force Academy Planetarium are presently holding teacher workshops and preparing curriculum materials for posting on the Starshine web site for use by other planetariums, schools and astronomical societies around the world to familiarize teachers and students with the basic principles of observational astronomy and satellite tracking.
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