Some of the world’s most cutting-edge satellite technology is coming from the campus of Morehead State University (MSU) in Eastern Kentucky. The Space Science Center at MSU specializes in micro and nanosatellites and has evolved into an internationally-recognized center for research in these “smallsat” technologies. These satellites are extremely small (loaf of bread-size to the size of a small suitcase) and they orbit Earth in formations. They are being used by NASA, the Department of Defense, and private aerospace companies.
Smallsats are considered “disruptive technology” by the world-wide aerospace industry because they can provide some of the same services as conventional satellites at a fraction of the cost and with short development times —and MSU is at the forefront of this emerging technology.
The Center’s facility, which was established in 2009, is a $16 million, 45,000 square-foot building with state-of-the art laboratories that includes research and development infrastructure required to develop nanosatellite technologies from the concept to the design, to fabrication and testing, and mission operations. MSU and the Space Science Center have worked closely with Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) since its inception.
“The goals of the Space Science Center are closely aligned with those of the SOAR initiative,” said Dr. Benjamin Malphrus, director of MSU’s Space Science Center. “Our goal of promoting regional economic development through innovative research and development in space system technologies and through contributing to the development of a workforce for the growing aerospace industry in Kentucky is consistent with the SOAR initiative mission and represents the Space Science Center’s contribution to this outstanding initiative that we believe will have a major long-term impact on the economy of Appalachia.”
In September 2017, Congressman Hal Rogers, co-chair of SOAR, brought NASA Acting Administrator Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. to MSU and its Space Science Center. Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Janean Hampton was also in attendance.
Morehead State faculty and students have built and launched six satellites to Earth orbit since 2006 (KySat-2, CXBN, Eagle-1, Eagle-2, UniSat-5, and CXBN-2) with a major mission currently under development.
The Center, which is home to one of five space science programs in the country, is currently managing seven NASA contracts including Lunar IceCube, DM-7 (a massively paralleled small supercomputer that will fly to the International Space Station in late 2016), contracts associated with the DSN upgrade and three NASA interplanetary smallsat planning missions.
The Lunar IceCube mission, a NASA mission led by Morehead State, was selected by NASA for launch on Exploration Mission One-EM-1, which will be the maiden voyage of the Space Launch System (SLS) the most powerful rocket ever built when in launches in 2019. It is designed to prospect for water ice other lunar volatiles from lunar orbit. Morehead State leads the mission in partnership with NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, JPL, and the Busek Space Propulsion Company.
The Center was instrumental in establishing aerospace as the number one industry in Kentucky through workforce development and through its contributions to research and development in astronautics. Through the work of the Space Science Center and state and local leadership, Rajant Corporation, a pioneer of kinetic mesh networking technology, opened a facility in Morehead in 2015.