Students Observe Project Starshine Tests at the Naval Research Laboratory

1/28/1999 - 7-99r
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More than 50 Northern Virginia students visited the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) on January 28 and 29, to observe final acceptance tests on the Project Starshine satellite. Starshine is a small, highly-reflective, spherical satellite that was built by NRL for deployment on the National Aeronautics Space Administration's (NASA) Space Shuttle. Students from other states and over 16 countries participated in polishing the 877 optical mirrors attached to the satellite. After being launched into orbit, the students will observe light reflections from the satellite and collect precise time measurements. These measurements will be shared with students around the world to calculate astronomical phenomena of interest to the scientific community.

NRL designed and manufactured the Starshine satellite's structure during the fall of 1998, assembled mirrors to its surfaces, and obtained NASA flight-safety approvals. The Starshine satellite consists of a hollow aluminum sphere that is 19 inches in diameter, weighs about 86 pounds, and is covered with 877 polished aluminum mirrors. Each mirror is one inch in diameter and was manually polished to a surface flatness of less than 10 wavelengths of visible light. The mirrors were polished by teams of elementary, middle, and high school students using diamond paste and sandpaper. After polishing, the mirrors were sent to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for application of a transparent protective coating. Finally, they were sent to NRL for installation and assembly on the satellite. Special tests, including vibration and safety-of-flight certifications, were performed by NRL.

Project Starshine is being coordinated by the Rocky Mountain NASA Space Grant Consortium, headquartered at Utah State University (USU). After final tests are complete, the satellite will be delivered by NRL to NASA for installation in a Hitchhiker launch canister and will fly on the STS-96 mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery in mid-1999. It will be deployed at an altitude of approximately 205 nautical miles with an orbit inclination to the earth's equator of 51.6 degrees. After deployment, Starshine rotates at one revolution per minute. This motion, combined with the satellite's orbit, will produce flashes of sunlight from its mirrors about once per second. It is expected to orbit the earth for about six months before re-entry.

During Project Starshine's on-orbit phase, the satellite is observable to the naked eye in mid-latitudes in the morning and evening. Participating schools will track the satellite as it orbits the earth, and post this data to an Internet website. USU will provide special software and lesson plans under NASA's sponsorship. As the students collect data, note the program organizers, Project Starshine will provide valuable scientific data to NASA on the density of the earth's atmosphere, as well as the effects of solar flares on the satellite's orbit. After completion of this project, teams of students will write on their findings, which will be published on the Internet and supplied to the scientific community.

"This project was designed to be an exciting, educational project providing students with insight and understanding into the satellite development process, orbital dynamics, and scientific methods," commented Mr. Gil Moore, director of the space grant consortium. The consortium has received support from government, universities and commercial partners. Additional project information can be found on the Internet site,

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About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory provides the advanced scientific capabilities required to bolster our country's position of global naval leadership. The Laboratory, with a total complement of approximately 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to advance research further than you can imagine. For more information, visit the NRL website or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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