A satellite developed with the help of Big Island schoolchildren was damaged during a rocket launch earlier this month, but the program will be given a second shot shortly. In the year 2019, the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Institute for Astronomy teamed together with the Hawaii Science and Technology Museum in Hilo to create a CubeSat. This miniature satellite would be propelled into space on the maiden flight of Firefly Alpha, a private company’s unmanned launch vehicle.
The CubeSat was launched aboard Firefly Alpha in September from the Vandenberg Air Force Base situated in California. After a devastating engine failure, the rocket and its whole payload were destroyed in just three minutes. “That was Firefly Alpha’s first flight, and first launches don’t always go well,” stated Amber Imai-Hong, avionics engineer of the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which designed the satellite.
Despite the satellite’s loss, Imai-Hong stated that HSTM and HSFL are collaborating on a substitute that will be included in Firefly Alpha 2’s payload. Both satellites, known as Hiapo and Hiapo 2.0, are designed to detect the Earth’s magnetic field while also providing students with an introduction to aeronautical design. Hiapo was created when HSTM was chosen as one of 26 companies to provide a 10-cubic-centimeter spacecraft to Firefly Alpha’s payload, according to Imai-Hong. In order to produce the satellite at a low cost, HSTM teamed up with HSFL to form Project POKE, a project to build a CubeSat kit, which is low-cost.
Hiapo was created with spare parts, according to Imai-Hong, while many CubeSats cost around $120,000 to build. “As you might anticipate, connecting random devices together doesn’t always provide the desired results,” Imai-Hong explained. “However, we persevered.” UH-Manoa was awarded a NASA grant valued at $500,000 in 2020 to build low-cost CubeSat kits for undergraduate projects. A few of these kits will be used to build Hiapo 2.0, according to Imai-Hong.
According to Imai-Hong, from the design stage to final testing, upwards of 100 UH students were involved in the creation of Hiapo. Meanwhile, Christian Wong, the director of the HSTM, said that roughly 30 Hilo middle as well as high school students took part in virtual lessons to study the satellite.
Students were supervised in design and project management skills by Imai-Hong and Heather Bottom, a NASA Jet Propulsion Lab engineer who used a clean room provided by UH. Wong chose the name for the satellite as a result of this procedure. According to Imai-Hong, “Hiapo” implies “eldest child,” which depicts the mentor-student connection that led to the creation of the satellite.
Imai-Hong stated that she had higher expectations for Firefly Alpha 2, that she believes will be released later this year. “However, regardless of what happens, we’ll learn a great deal more,” Imai-Hong said. “None of these are going to waste.”