In November of last year, a team of Robertsville middle students, educators, and Oak Ridge scientists submitted a proposal to NASA for their Cube Satellite Launch Initiative (CSLI) in hopes of sending a student-designed nanosatellite named, “RamSat” into space. NASA’s CSLI provides opportunities for small satellite payloads built by various schools and non-profit organizations to fly on upcoming launches. NASA provides CubeSat developers a low-cost pathway to conduct scientific investigations in space, enabling students, teachers, and industry partners to obtain hands-on development experiences.

In a letter received on March 2, 2018, we learned that our proposal for RamSat was accepted for participation in the CSLI, an initiative intended to provide launch opportunities during 2019, 2020, and 2021. CubeSats are auxiliary payloads on planned NASA, other U.S. Government, or commercial space flight missions, or deployments from the International Space Station. We learned that our payload is one of 21 satellites selected or prioritized for participation in the ninth CSLI selection. Our acceptance was also announced on NASA’s website as RamSat, an education mission to develop and implement a middle school STEM curriculum for building a CubeSat.

Peter Thornton, one of the RamSat team leaders from Oak Ridge National Laboratory stated, “This is such an exciting opportunity for the students! They will now have the chance to design, build, carry out and own a satellite mission. They will be the mission scientists, the communication specialists, and the logistics experts. They will calculate orbits, learn to aim their satellite camera at selected targets on the ground, radio their commands to RamSat, and receive and interpret the digital data streams broadcast by RamSat, containing imagery and all the other important data gathered on-board. They’ll be working as a team to identify and solve problems, and they will be working with NASA professionals to integrate RamSat into the launch and deployment missions. I can’t think of a more exciting project to ignite the students’ curiosity and passion for science and engineering.”

The CSLI ride-share launch features spacecraft called nanosatellites. CubeSats are sized in units, and one unit (1U) is 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm. To participate in the CSLI program, CubeSat investigations must be in alignment with NASA’s Strategic Plan. The Robertsville Middle School proposal aimed to demonstrate alignment by creating student-driven STEM-based lessons addressing educational development needs relevant to NASA’s strategic goals. The students’ targeted mission for their RamSat is to send a small camera and radio encased in a 2U nanosatellite that will relay data and images from space back to earth. With this information, students will study reforestation patterns of vegetation lost in forest fires. The student mission arose in response to a real-world connection they had to the Gatlinburg fires last year.