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Missouri S&T students design satellite headed to space to test fuels

The M3 satellite under construction at Missouri S&T. The student designed and built project is scheduled to be launched into space in February 2024.
Drake Beaman
The M3 satellite under construction at Missouri S&T. The student-designed and -built project is scheduled to be launched into space in February.

Space X’s February launch will include a satellite that was designed and built in Rolla.

The small satellite is named M3 - short for Multi-Mode Mission - and is built in three cubes. It’s about the size of half a shoebox but is still big enough to test two different kinds of propellants.

“It's able to perform chemical burns, like the burns that you see on rocketry with all the flame spewing out of it. It's a very powerful burn, but it uses fuel very, very quickly,” said Drake Beaman, a junior in aerospace engineering from Pleasant Hill, Missouri, who is the project’s chief engineer.

“It also will test an electrospray burn, which is kind of like the little puffs of air you see in the movies when a spacecraft slowly reorients itself to face a certain direction or just keep itself in orbit,” he said.

The NASA-approved satellite is scheduled to launch on SpaceX’s mission on Feb. 1. It will spend the first week of its orbit becoming acclimated to zero gravity and the vacuum of space. Then it will spend two days completing the tests.

“This will be a technology demonstration in which we use different methods of propulsion for the satellite,” Beaman said. “It will have chemical and electric components and will be fed a liquid propellant. The thruster will be fired in the vacuum of space, with zero gravity, for five 30-second bursts.”

The satellite’s data will then be sent to Iridium Communications, which specializes in satellite communications, and transferred to the S&T team.

“It's pretty incredible to be talking with industry professionals almost every day through emails or through conference calls,” said Emily Doddemeade, a senior in aerospace engineering from Colorado and the project manager for the satellite. “To have that on my resume is pretty incredible.”

Doddmeade already has a job lined up with Lockheed Martin following her graduation.

Missouri University of Science and Technology’s satellite team has involved dozens of students working on the project since 2016.

“It’s amazing to consider how many moving parts and disciplines are involved in something like this,” Doddmeade said. “You really have to take a systems engineering perspective for this instead of thinking about just one major.”

This is the school’s first satellite that will go into space, but maybe not its last. The team is working on another project and hope it's chosen for a future mission.

It’s a pair of satellites that circle each other and collect data on inter-satellite communication.

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.