NASA selects ASU undergraduate 'CubeSat' project to measure Phoenix urban heat islands

May 6, 2016

NASA has selected an Arizona State University undergraduate student team for a $200,000 grant to conduct hands-on flight research, through its NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Student Instrument Program (USIP).   

The project, called “Phoenix,” is to design and build a small satellite, the size of a small loaf of bread, called a “3U CubeSat.” The satellite will use thermal infrared imaging to investigate how human activity and weather create urban heat islands around Phoenix and several other cities. “Phoenix” team photo using thermal imaging "Phoenix” team photo using thermal imaging (from left): Brody Willard, Jesus Acosta, Raymond Barakat, Bradley Cooley, Elora Mastison, Sarah Rogers, Judd Bowman, Giana-Maria Parisi, William Merino, Ryan Fagan. Photo by Jaime Sanchez de la Vega Download Full Image

Though faculty and a graduate student will be mentors on the project, the team of more than 25 undergraduate students will be designing, promoting, building and running a satellite project from beginning to end.

“This project is history in the making,” said School of Earth and Space Exploration associate professor Judd Bowman, the project’s principal investigator. “No undergraduate student group at ASU has run a satellite in space before.”

Students will be working in labs within the School of Earth and Space Exploration as well as the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. The satellite will be controlled from the mission operations center on the ASU Tempe campus. 

“They’ll will be working on a real project, using a real process, with real risk and the pressure to actually deliver,” says Bowman.

The project follows an interdisciplinary model, made up of students and faculty from the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, as well as the student-run Sun Devil Satellite Laboratory.

“Our project is enriched by a collaboration of schools at ASU spanning engineering, science and the arts,” said Jaime Sanchez de la Vega, a sophomore in aerospace engineering and the team’s chief engineer. “This diverse involvement allows our mission to have a much greater impact than any of the participating schools could have by itself.”

While the engineering team will design and construct the satellite, the science team will utilize the information collected by the satellite to advance the scientific understanding of urban heat islands. The outreach team will then communicate this new knowledge to the community.

“The collaboration of different areas of human knowledge mirrors ASU’s mission as a New American University of academic excellence, interdisciplinary research, local impact and social embeddedness,” said de la Vega.

In addition to science and engineering roles, the team includes students who will take on responsibilities in public relations, journalism, graphic design, web development, videography and photography, making the team truly interdisciplinary. 

“The public outreach component of the mission is one of the most essential parts of the project,” said Sarah Rogers, a freshman in aerospace engineering and the team’s project manager. “It connects people directly to what is being done at ASU.”

Through the USIP Student Flight Research Opportunity program, NASA seeks to build science, technical, leadership and project skills among undergraduate students by offering them real-world experience in developing and flying science or technology experiments that are relevant to NASA’s missions. NASA will cover launch and flight costs.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


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A graduation milestone

May 6, 2016

ASU Colleges at Lake Havasu City sees largest graduating class yet

The 2016 spring commencement marks a milestone for Arizona State University’s Colleges at Lake Havasu City.

Twenty students will be handed diplomas at the convocation ceremony Saturday, May 7 — the largest graduating class yet. Eight graduates will be the first to have spent all four years of college at Havasu, which was established in fall 2012.

The colleges offer an affordable option for in- and out-of-state students who are seeking a private-school, small-campus feel.

man studying

“We are a small school, and we are entirely focused on students who want a personalized education and teaching,” said David Young, director of the ASU Colleges of Lake Havasu City. “Anyone can be successful here, students can find themselves and it is gratifying to watch these students be prepared for the real world.” 

Robert Lynch (pictured at right), who is graduating with a biology degree with an emphasis in environmental science, said he came to Lake Havasu planning on completing a bachelor’s degree, but with the guidance of his professors here, realized he could do more.

“The small campus size helped me focus on my studies, get to know my professors and establish good friendships,” Lynch said.

Lynch made a total switch from a career in banking to a degree in biology. He plans to pursue his master’s this coming fall and eventually his doctorate.

Students are encouraged to explore their academic interests within the 18 degree programs available at Lake Havasu and apply their knowledge to engaging and problem solving in the local community.

student standing in front of presentation

“My favorite experience was being pushed out of my comfort zone and having my work recognized by my professors. That encouraged me to develop my idea for my capstone and present my work at the Western Psychology Association Convention in California,” said graduating senior Yesenia Ramirez (pictured at the convention at left), who is graduating with a degree in psychology and plans on pursuing a master’s in social work.

Both Ramirez and Lynch will be speaking at their convocation ceremony.

“I think a lot of people wondered why I decided to stay within the town I grew up in. Attending ASU Havasu has allowed me to remain connected to my community and allowed me to explore my interest in social work right here,” Ramirez said.

Reporter , ASU Now