ATLANTA – An Antares rocket scheduled for launch Thursday night from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia will carry a small research satellite developed by students at the University of Georgia.
The SPOC, short for Spectral Ocean Color, will monitor the health of coastal ecosystems from space.
The satellite, about the size of a loaf of bread, features an advanced optic system that can zoom in on coastal areas to detect chemical composition and physical characteristics on ocean and wetland surfaces.
UGA students and faculty researchers have been working since 2016 to get the project off the ground. The team won a highly competitive research grant from NASA to secure a spot on the rocket and earn funding.
“I was looking for the most difficult thing I could find and throwing myself at it,” said Hollis Neal, a UGA graduate and one of the founders of UGA’s Small Satellite Research Lab. “That’s a theme with us: We really enjoy a challenge.”
Among the challenges the UGA team had to overcome was a malfunction discovered weeks before a planned launch last March that forced a postponement. After that, the coronavirus pandemic got in the way, shutting down the lab in the spring and summer, then limiting the number of people who could be inside the lab at any one time.
Once in space, SPOC will travel to the International Space Station for deployment into orbit a few weeks later.
“The most important date for our success will be sometime in November when the satellite is actually deployed and the scientific mission begins,” said Deepak Mishra, a UGA geography professor and director of the lab.
UGA hopes to launch a second satellite about a year from now, while a third satellite is in development with help from a local nonprofit.