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NASA helps students launch satellite into space

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- NASA is helping UI engineering students launch a million dollar satellite. 

They're hoping this innovative technology will pave the way for the future in science. Their hard work is about to make it into space. The CubeSail satellite has been almost ten years in the making. 

Space is filled with undiscovered mysteries. Team leader Dawn Haken  says, "We do need to understand our universe as best as possible." 

With the help of NASA the UI engineering students created a satellite unlike any other.

Haken says, "We have to put it in space and it has to work for a year or longer and be fully functional the whole time." 

The satellite is set to launch from New Zealand in May. 

"It's going up to 500 kilometers above the ground. For reference the international space station is around 400 kilometers." 

CubeSail is about the size of a shoebox. It runs on light reflective material called a solar sail system.

"Sunlight will hit the sail and move the satellite along." 

That solar sail is about 820 feet long.  

"It's wound up in the two halves of it. And when it's in space it splits apart into two sattelites." 

The technology these students developed is different from what exists now. 

"Current solar sail technology doesn't allow you to steer. You can use it to accelerate the satellite but once you're up to a certain speed if you want to get to Jupiter and stay around there and take pictures of it, you have to be able to slow down and turn which these solar sails can do." 

Once it's in space, these students will communicate with it through radio waves. 

Team member Justin Frank says, "We're looking at magnetic fields, we're looking at temperatures, we're looking at light we're getting from the satellite." 

Through that, who knows, maybe one of these students will be able to uncover some of the mysteries in space. 

"The goal is to eventually build much bigger sails which you could steer them all the way to Jupiter or beyond."

Once the satellite is launched in May it'll take about 18 months to get it down to the altitude where they can deploy the sail. From there, they will collect as many pictures and data as possible before it burns away in the atmosphere.

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