Bastrop County high school students launch satellite they designed into space

Bastrop County

McDADE, Texas (KXAN) — Three local high school students are in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday to watch a rocket launch the satellite they designed into space.

The McDade ISD Satellite Team spent several weeks designing and re-designing the small project, and Quad-M, Inc., a fabricator in the small town of a few hundred, built it.

Covered in reflectors, the satellite will be trackable by shooting a high-powered laser into space, bouncing it off the device, and measuring how long it takes for the light to return to Earth.

“I am bursting with pride that our kids have been able to do this,” said Barbara Marchbanks, McDade ISD’s superintendent. Her adult son, a veteran and former NASA worker, helped the students learn the computer-aided design software they used to configure the satellite.

The device is one of many small satellites attached to a re-supply mission to the International Space Station, carried by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. The student project will remain in space, where they can track its movements, for two years.

“It’s crazy,” said rising senior Luz Ramirez.

She joined the Satellite Team because she wanted to learn something new. Ramirez wasn’t familiar with the design software — none of the students was — but she’s good at math.

“I was actually doing most of the calculations when it came to the satellite,” she said, “where we had to put the reflectors, how far apart they were.”

Just two other students, Juan Rodriguez and Evan Allen, were part of the team. “It would have been a lot smoother and faster if we had more people,” Rodriguez said, “but it didn’t work out that way.”

So they worked around it. The team had a guide for their project — a duplicate of the satellite a group of McDade middle-schoolers launched into space in December. That group of nine students was the first in the district to tackle a project like this.

“Then the high school kids were going, ‘Hey, how about us?'” Marchbanks said.

It’s an expensive endeavor to send something into space; a spot on a launch like the one Wednesday can cost around $150,000, a prohibitive price tag for a 1A school district like McDade.

Fortunately for the district, Quad-M builds a lot of satellite delivery systems that are mounted on rockets to push devices into space. That means the company has a lot of customers buying space on launches.

A customer had to back out of their space on Wednesday’s rocket, Quad-M president Victor Dube said, and agreed to pay for the students to take their spot. The same thing happened for the district’s first launch in 2018.

Central Texans donated money to cover additional costs. “They believe in what our kids are doing,” Marchbanks said.

Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the return to Earth of the first astronauts to walk on the moon. “Fifty years later… I’m just in school and I designed this,” Ramirez said. “And now we’re sending it into space. that’s crazy.”

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