Students Designing, Testing New Satellite Technology

  • Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    PRINCESS ANNE, MD - They're creating what they hope will be the 21st Century's "better mousetrap," and they're building it here on the Lower Shore: low-cost, responsive access to space.

    With guidance from regional and local engineers and computer experts, a team of university students is working on technology that will launch more effective and less expensive satellites, launching the students' careers at the same time. Students, professors, engineers and computer programmers, working together in a classroom at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, are preparing the groundwork for systems that will create "virtual test drives" for their technology. When they succeed, they will have reduced substantially the time and expense of making sure satellite systems work before they are launched into space.

    The four students chosen for the project are from UMES and from Salisbury University. They are working for the Mid-Atlantic Institute for Space and Technology (MIST) alongside experts from Space Access Technologies LLC of Ashburn, VA, which is supported by their partners TriSept Corporation, of Ashburn, VA, Design Net Engineering, of Lakewood, CO, and Star Technologies of Great Falls, VA. The team is writing helper applications that will ultimately be downloaded onto satellite computers. Called "plug and play" components, the applications will have to respond to the demands of a variety of satellite configurations, producing consistently reliable results. The multitude of satellite manufacturers in business, each with its own design idiosyncrasies, makes the task especially challenging.

    Meeting the needs of the growing satellite business is only one of MIST's goals. Executive Director Wayne Woodhams, Ph.D., explains that the long-term plan is to plant the seeds for the area's next high-tech industry, boosting the economy and creating local jobs for the engineering and physics graduates of UMES and SU.

    Space Access Technologies, which is opening a Worcester County office, was hired by MIST with funds provided by the National Air and Space Administration (NASA) to coordinate the project. Steve Sprague, director of software engineering for TriSept, explains that the potential value of the applications the students are working on is great. "We are talking about enabling a satellite company to do in two weeks and for about $1 million what they would otherwise have to spend two years and $20 million to accomplish."

    The four students involved in the project are: Khary Smith, of Lanham, MD, and Maurice Lamer, of Oxon Hill, MD, who are both working on Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in engineering at UMES; Paul Casey, of Annapolis, MD, who is working on a BS in physics with a concentration in microelectronics at SU; and Sebastian Stewart, who recently earned his BS in physics with a specialization in rocketry at SU. Ken Center, of Design Net Engineering, and Fred Eckert, of Star Technologies, are guiding the students in their research.

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    Maureen McNeill, communications consultant, UMES Office of Public Relations, 410-651-7580.