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Dawgs in Space

Alan Flurry

UPDATE: Launch re-scheduled for 9:16 EST Oct. 2 – A Franklin College-student-led effort to get the University of Georgia’s first research satellite into space is ready for launch. The small satellite SPOC, short for Spectral Ocean Color, is due for takeoff at 9:38 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1. That's tonight:

The satellite will be on board an Antares rocket set to launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Once deployed, the small satellite will monitor the health of coastal ecosystems from space.

SPOC is poised to provide valuable data to researchers at UGA and beyond. It features an advanced optic system that can zoom in on coastal areas to detect chemical composition and physical characteristics on ocean and wetland surfaces—all of which fits into a spacecraft that’s about the size of a loaf of bread.

The creation of the satellite and efforts to get it launched has depended on a close collaboration between eager students and faculty researchers, said Deepak Mishra, a UGA geography professor and director of UGA’s Small Satellite Research Lab.

“This project would be nowhere without students,” Mishra said. “Undergraduate students came with the skills, and faculty researchers gave them a scientific purpose.”

Getting off the ground

But it took years of hard work and overcoming a few setbacks—including the current global pandemic—to get to this point. It started in 2016 with a handful of students who dreamed of sending something—anything really—into space.

I was looking for the most difficult thing I could find and throwing myself at it,” said Hollis Neel, a UGA graduate and one of the founders of UGA’s Small Satellite Research Lab. “That’s a theme you’ll find with a lot of us: We really enjoy a challenge.”

To turn challenge into reality, they needed funding and facilities. To get that, they teamed up with UGA researchers, who guided that dream into something practical. David Cotten, assistant research scientist and associate lab director, worked closely with a host of other UGA faculty advisors to devise research capabilities and solve the challenges faced during the satellite’s creation.

Emphasis added in the above, which says it all about the acumen and character of these students. Such a momentous occasion for students and faculty from geography, physics and astronomy, computer science, engineering and more. Congratulations feels alike an understatement at this point, but our heartfelt pride in your accomplishments has never been stronger.

The UGA launch party, hosted by the UGA Alumni Association, the Franklin College of Art and Sciences, and the College of Engineering, begins Thursday at 7 p.m. The event will include briefings by UGA alumnus Roger Hunter, the program manager for NASA Small Spacecraft Technology, as well as students, faculty and administrators. NASA livestream coverage begins at 9 p.m. The launch is scheduled for 9:38 p.m.

Image: The early days of SSRL. From left, associate lab director David Cotten, former student Caleb Adams, lab director Deepak Mishra, and former student Megan Le Corre when the project began in 2016. Adams is holding a 3D printer model of the small satellite. (Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

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