University of Hawaii Innovation Initiative

Readying for Liftoff

UH prepares to launch its own satellite

By Jolyn Okimoto Rosa
TESTING: ORS-4 static fire of rocket motor at Edwards Air Force Base in August 2012. Courtesy: Operationally Responsive Space Office, Department of Defense

TESTING: ORS-4 static fire of rocket motor at Edwards Air Force Base in August 2012. Courtesy: Operationally Responsive Space Office, Department of Defense

Satellite launches and tracking, two new world-class telescopes, and a portable space habitat: Some of the most exciting projects in these Islands are in areas of astronomy and space. These projects bring hands-on learning opportunities and high-tech careers.

Satellite Launch

The University of Hawai‘i is working to become the only university in the world with dedicated rocket-launch capability for its own satellites.

In 2007, UH Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) joined with the College of Engineering to create Hawai‘i Space Flight Laboratory (HSFL). The primary objectives of HSFL include the development of a new, highly trained workforce, by offering opportunities to design, build, test, launch and operate small satellites in the space environment. The laboratory’s work should lead to expanded economic opportunities in Hawai‘i.

HSFL is one of the key partners supporting the fall 2013 launch of a small Super Strypi rocket, carrying a UH-developed satellite called HiakaSat. The project, called ORS-4, will be the first satellite to be launched from Kaua‘i’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF).

“This will be the first of a series of UH Earth-monitoring satellites,” says HSFL director Luke Flynn. “We expect HSFL-trained students to spin off their own niche companies in the future.”

BELOW: The Hawai‘i Space Flight Laboratory team. Director Luke Flynn is third from left. Photo by George Lee, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

BELOW: The Hawai‘i Space Flight Laboratory team. Director Luke Flynn is third from left. Photo by George Lee, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

The project is part of a congressionally directed program funded through the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office of the Department of Defense. Other partners include launch-systems contractor Sandia National Laboratories and rocket-motor contractor Aerojet Inc.

Kaua‘i Community College is providing the location infrastructure and facilities for an HSFL ground station and mission-control room, and will be able to direct UH’s satellites to take photos for a number of scientific applications.

World-Class Telescopes

In November, construction started on the world’s largest solar telescope, the $300-million Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) on Maui’s Mount Haleakala.

The ATST is important to both the scientific community and Hawai‘i’s economy. Project operations are expected to contribute approximately $18 million a year to the local economy.

According to UH Manoa Institute for Astronomy director Gunther Hasinger, “The ATST will lead to tremendous advances in our understanding of the sun, including those aspects of its variable activity that affect life on Earth.”

Another telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), is planned for Mauna Kea on the Big Island. The estimated $1.3 billion project, which will produce the world’s largest optical telescope, involves an association of research universities and the governments of Canada, Japan, India and China.

Space Habitat

Hawai‘i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) is a small, portable space habitat in a Mars-like area at 8,200 feet on the slopes of Mauna Loa on the Big Island. The first HI-SEAS project focuses on new forms of food and food preparation for long-duration space missions. According to co-investigator Kim Binsted of UH Manoa’s Information and Computer Sciences Department, the project received $950,000 in NASA funding and is seeking funding for future years.

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