With just 28 seconds left on the clock, the launch of the fourth student-built satellite from Bronco Space was delayed until Friday, April 14, at 11:47 p.m. Loaded onto a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket, the CubeSat will be launched into low-Earth orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base.
On Thursday night, April 13, the fourth student-built satellite from Bronco Space will launch on a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket to low-Earth orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base. The launch is scheduled for 11:47 p.m. will be livestreamed on the SpaceX website.
The mission goal is development of a low-cost satellite that makes a CubeSat program available to other universities and potentially high schools. The small communications satellite, Yearling-2, will test the students’ design and communications systems. To communicate with their satellite, and others, students designed and built a ground station on campus that has been successfully operating and communicating with other satellites for the past week.
Ultimately, the students plan to open source the design of the CubeSat, which could be built for about $1,000 and open up opportunities for more students to be involved in space and near space research.
Yearling-2 is an updated version of the group’s Pleiades Rapid Orbital Verification Experimental System (PROVES) CubeSat, which launched in January. Unfortunately, PROVES didn’t separate from the launch vehicle and is orbiting somewhere above Earth.
Offered space on another launch, students began work on a replacement.
“The challenge,” explained Nicole Maggard, a senior and the lead electrical and software engineer, “was that many of the components they needed were not available due to the ongoing chip shortage and some parts becoming obsolete. While PROVES was based on a Stanford University design (Pycubed), for this satellite, we had to develop original architecture (Pysquared).”
To perfect the design, the team built and tested five satellites. Students delivered Yearling-2, which is roughly the size of a loaf of bread, to SpaceX on March 4.
Bronco Space launched its first satellite, BroncoSat-1, in May 2022. If this launch takes place as scheduled, the team will have designed and built four satellites that were launched into space or near space in a year: BroncoSat-1, Bronco Ember, Pleiades Rapid Orbital Verification Experimental System (PROVES) Yearling-1 and PROVES Yearling-2.
For Maggard, who has accepted a job offer with Northrop Grumman, going to space or working on space-related projects has been a long-time dream. She joined the Yearling-1 project halfway through its development and worked on flight software. For Yearling-2, she learned skills in electrical systems design.
“Yearling-2 is such an exciting satellite to work on and build because we were no longer adopting pre-existing hardware. We really starting to come into our own,” Maggard said. “The Pysquared architecture was completely developed, tested and prepped for space in less than a month! I definitely couldn’t have done that a year ago.”
Amanda Ewing, an aerospace engineering senior, worked on five of the satellite’s solar faces. “How many undergraduates get to touch space hardware and get to design that? It’s so cool. And, the people are really nice, and we’re okay with people who really don’t know what they’re doing at first. It gives us the opportunity to learn. It’s fun and I learn things that you don’t learn in regular curriculum-based teaching.
For Michael Pham, one of the club’s founders and an aerospace engineering senior, there’s a sense of legacy to their work.
“Aside from space exploration and space being the final frontier,” Pham said, “the things that we work on have a really large impact in the space community. A big part of what makes Bronco Space special is that everything we do is started by students and entirely run by students. It’s truly the spirit of innovation.”
“All majors are welcomed in our Artemis program. If you are interested in space, you don’t have to be a STEM major to join us and participate.”