COSMIAC builds satellites and the tools to make them fly

July 2, 2014 - By Karen Wentworth

The University of New Mexico's latest tool for building and testing small satellites is under construction. Students will spend the rest of the summer completing work to test and calibrate power sources for a Helmholtz Cage they have built at the UNM School of Engineering's Configurable Space Microsystems and Appliciations Center (COSMIAC).

As COSMIAC charts a course through the evolving world of small satellite technology, researchers and students are preparing the infrastructure they need to build and test the sensors that make the satellites work properly. The Helmholtz Cage allows them to cancel the effects of the earth’s magnetic field when they want to test satellite sensors. Since satellites use the magnetic field as a way to orient themselves in space, it is important to build sensors to make the orientation as precise as possible, and to provide a geomagnetic environment similar to what the satellite would experience in space.

Jacy Bitsoie, a senior civil engineering student with an interest in small satellites, performed the initial calculations and configuration for the cage. She plans to attend graduate school at UNM in the fall to begin studying for an advanced degree in mechanical engineering.

Meanwhile Preston Edwards, a mechanical engineering student at UNM, Luke Haynes a high school senior from Albuquerque and Robert Wills, an undergraduate from J. F. Drake State Technical College in Huntsville, Ala. have built the cage and are beginning work to test the programmable power supplies. Edwards is hoping to work on a senior design project to build an artificial arm that can move objects around within the cage so that researchers can accomplish the variety of magnetic calibration activities needed to adjust the satellite sensors.

Craig Kief, COSMIAC's director of Academic Programs and Design Services, said that they bring students out of the classroom and into the laboratory, building hands-on applications that will be used to build and test satellites and satellite components.

COSMIAC has an extensive educational component. Educators throughout the Southwest come to the facility for week-long workshops that teach them how to provide high school and community college students the initial educational elements for learning to work with reprogrammable computer chips such as Field Programmable Gate Arrays and Microcontrollers