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Cal Poly's CubeSat program successful in space and a boost for students' careers

Posted at 12:32 PM, Aug 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-13 15:45:57-04

A "Space Flight Now" news article says the LightSail 2 project could now make traveling through the solar system faster and cheaper.

At Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, the university's role in this decade-long, $7 million project has not only advanced its program, it has done same the for its students' careers.

Cal Poly's role in the Planetary Society's LightSail 2 has proven for the first time that a cube satellite can deploy a sail in space.

"It orbits around the Earth, and as it travels away, it turns so the rays hit the full face of the sail, and it just gives it a little bit of a boost. It can continue to do that again, and again, and again," explained John Bellardo, Director of Cal Poly's CubeSat Lab.

"It means you don't have to carry fuel, which can be a huge issue," said Adam Klein, Computer Science junior.

Bellardo says over that ten year span, around 60 students were able to contribute to LightSail 2.

"As a kid, I watched the movies with Apollo 13 and the martian, seeing all the people in the control room talking to the spacecraft. That was something I wanted to do as a child. Now being able to do it in college, I think it's just an amazing experience," said Cole Gillespie, Aerospace Engineering junior.

"Here, I'm in on discussions on high-level software architecture that I probably wouldn't get until I was 50 or 60 in industry," Klein added.

That experience combined with other projects Cal Poly's CubeSat program has and will continue to work on, helps give students an edge in the workforce.

"It does give them a big leg up in terms of finding jobs and getting established in the aerospace community if that's what they want to do when they graduate," Bellardo said.

Bellardo says the next project is already in the works for students at Cal Poly.

A new spacecraft, ExoCube 2, will help measure the amount of helium and hydrogen particles in space,

It's expected to launch in the next six months.